Brazil: floods leave nine dead and thousands homeless

Published: 6 February 2008 0:00 CET

“At least nine people died and twelve others were injured in floods that hit the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro last Saturday and Sunday,” said José Sant’Ana Mateus from the state’s Civil Defence Authority. Heavy rain caused flooding and mudslides – many of those who lost their lives were on a hillside. Some were buried alive in their homes.

The Civil Defence Authority said the equivalent of three week’s rain had fallen in just a few hours. “To give you an idea, 13 mm fell on neighbouring Petropolis and in Itaipava more than 135 mm fell in less than an hour. It was a completely extreme situation and that is why people died,” he said. Fire crews used boats to rescue residents from their homes.

The state of Sao Paulo has witnessed heavy rainfall since 12 January. The severe flooding that has ensued has damaged or destroyed homes and property. Some 1,435 people have lost their homes and 12,858 people have been temporarily displaced due to severe damage. Another 35,213 people sustained minor damage – with an overall total of 49,506 affected people.

The Brazilian Red Cross has been battling the floods since the onset of the disaster to provide relief assistance to those affected. Specialized teams were deployed and the Red Cross branch in the state of Sao Paulo responded by supporting the civil defence with relief work in temporary shelters.

The International Federation has released 115,000 Swiss francs (US$ 102,862 or EUR 69,697) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to immediately assist the Brazilian Red Cross.

The Brazilian Red Cross aims to provide humanitarian assistance to 7,500 beneficiaries across several communities: including the State of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais in south-east Brazil. According to the Brazilian Red Cross, the immediate needs are the provision of food, drinking water, hygiene kits and clothes. The Brazilian Red Cross is coordinating all work with local authorities and NGOs in the flooded areas, and the national relief department is providing direct support to local branches.

The Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU), based in Panama, whose aim is to support vulnerable people affected by disasters by reinforcing National Societies capacities before, during and after emergencies, is maintaining close contact with the Brazilian Red Cross.  It is expected that a member of the regional intervention team will support the Brazilian Red Cross for a period of one month to implement an action plan that will focus on relief distribution, advocacy efforts, and capacity-building in disaster preparedness.