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Dams are flooded and the death toll in southern Brazil continues to rise

The death toll from floods and mudslides caused by intense storms in southern Brazil rose to 39 on Friday, officials said, as they warned of worse to come.

As rain continued to pour down, rescuers in boats and planes searched for dozens of missing people among the ruins of collapsed houses, bridges and roads.

Rising water levels in Rio Grande do Sul state are putting pressure on dams and threatening the metropolis of Porto Alegre with “unprecedented” flooding, authorities warned.

“Forget everything you’ve seen, it’s about to get much worse in the metropolitan region,” Governor says Eduardo Leite said Friday as the streets of the state capital, with a population of some 1.5 million, began flooding after days of heavy rains in the region.

The state’s civil protection department said at least 265 municipalities have suffered storm damage in Rio Grande do Sul since Monday, injuring 74 people and displacing more than 24,000 – a third of whom have been taken to shelters.

According to the latest data, at least 68 people are missing and more than 350,000 people have suffered some form of damage.

And there was no end in sight, with officials reporting an “emergency situation involving a risk of collapse” at four dams in the state.

– ‘Disastrous cocktail’ –

The level of the state’s main Guiaba river, meanwhile, has risen an estimated 4.2 to 4.6 meters but could not be measured because the levels have been washed away, the mayor of Porto Alegre said.

As it continued to rise, officials rushed to strengthen flood protection.

Porto Alegre’s worst recorded flood occurred in 1941, when the river reached a level of 4.71 meters.

Elsewhere in the state, several cities and towns have been completely cut off from the world in what Governor Leite described as “the worst disaster in the history” of Rio Grande do Sul.

Many communities do not have access to drinking water, telephone or internet services.

Tens of thousands had no electricity.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the region on Thursday and vowed there will be “no shortage of human or material resources” in the response to the disaster, which he blamed on climate change.

The central government has sent planes, boats and more than 600 soldiers to help clear roads, distribute food, water and mattresses and set up shelters.

School classes have been suspended across the country.

Climatologist Francisco Eliseu Aquino told AFP on Friday that the devastating storms were the result of a “disastrous cocktail” of the El Nino weather phenomenon and global warming together.

South America’s largest country has recently experienced a series of extreme weather events, including a cyclone in September that claimed at least 31 lives.

Aquino said the specific geography of the region meant it often faced the effects of collisions between tropical and polar air masses – but these events have “intensified as a result of climate change.”

And when they coincide with El Nino, a periodic weather system that warms the tropical Pacific Ocean, the atmosphere becomes more unstable “and conducive to storms in the Rio Grande do Sul,” he said.

Extreme flooding has hit the state in the past two years at “a level of recurrence not seen in 10,000 years,” said Aquino, head of the geography department at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.

Northern Brazil recently experienced a historic drought and the number of forest fires reached a record in the first four months of this year.

“Rain in the south, fire in the north… These two tragedies bear the fingerprints of the climate crisis,” the NGO Climate Observatory warned in a statement.

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