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Caramelo the horse rescued from a rooftop amid Brazil floods in a boost for a beleaguered nation

Canoas, Brazil — A Brazilian horse nicknamed Caramelo by social media users garnered national attention after a television news helicopter filmed him stranded on a rooftop in southern Brazil, where massive floods have killed more than 100 people. About 24 hours after he was first spotted and with people clamoring for his rescue, a team in Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul state on Thursday successfully removed Caramelo, providing a dose of hope to a beleaguered region.

The brown horse had been balancing on two narrow strips of slippery asbestos for days in Canoas, a city in the Porto Alegre metropolitan area that is one of the hardest-hit areas in the state, much of which has been isolated by floodwaters.

"We found the animal in a debilitated state," Cap. Tiago Franco, a firefighter from Sao Paulo deployed to lead the rescue, was quoted as saying in a statement from that state's security secretariat. "We tried to approach in a calm way."

Firefighters and veterinarians climb onto a rooftop in Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul state, surrounded by floodwater, to rescue a stranded horse, nicknamed Caramelo by followers of his plight on social media, May 9, 2024. Reuters/TV GLOBO

Firefighters and veterinarians climbed onto the mostly submerged roof, sedated and immobilized the horse and then laid him on an inflatable raft — all 770 pounds of him. The operation involved four inflatable boats and four support vessels, with firefighters, soldiers and other volunteers.

The rescue was broadcast live on television networks that filmed from their helicopters. Social media influencer Felipe Neto sent out updates to his almost 17 million followers on X as the rescue was underway. Afterwards, he offered to adopt him.

"Caramelo, Brazil loves you!!! My God, what happiness," he wrote.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's wife, Janja, posted a video of herself sharing the good news with the Brazilian leader, whispering into his ear at an official event. He smiled, gave a thumbs up and hugged her to him. Rio Grande do Sul's Gov. Eduardo Leite also celebrated the rescue, posting on X: "All lives matter, we stand firm!"

A horse is seen stranded on a rooftop surrounded by floodwater in Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul state, May 9, 2024. Reuters/TV GLOBO

Caramelo was recovering at a veterinary hospital affiliated with a university by late Thursday.

Mariângela Allgayer, a veterinarian and professor at the institution, said Thursday afternoon on social media that he had arrived very dehydrated.

He is about 7 years old and, based on his characteristics, was likely used as a draft animal for a cart, Bruno Schmitz, one of the veterinarians who helped rescue and evaluate Caramelo, later told television network GloboNews. He's also very gentle, Schmitz added, which greatly helped with the administration of sedatives.

Fire crews and veterinarians transport a sedated horse nicknamed Caramelo to dry land by inflatable raft, in southern Brazil's flooded Rio Grande do Sul state, May 9, 2024. Reuters/TV GLOBO

"It was a very difficult operation, well beyond the standards even for specialized teams. I think they had never been through something like this before, but thank God everything went well," he said, then showed Caramelo standing up.

The stranded horse is just one of many animals rescue workers have been striving to save in recent days. Rio Grande do Sul state agents have rescued about 10,000 animals since last week, while those in municipalities and volunteers have saved thousands more, according to the state's housing secretariat.

Animal protection groups and volunteers have been sharing images of difficult rescues and heartwarming scenes of pets reuniting with their owners on social media. One video that went viral showed a man crying inside a boat, hugging his four dogs after rescuers went back to his home to save them.

Heavy rains and flooding in Rio Grande do Sul have killed at least 107 people. Another 136 are reported missing and more than 230,000 have been displaced, according to state authorities. There is no official tally for the number of animals that have been killed or are missing, but local media have estimated the number is in the thousands.

Brazil Floods
A resident carries his pets as he evacuates from a flooded area after heavy rain in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, May 7, 2024. Carlos Macedo/AP

Not far from where Caramelo was rescued, pet owners in Canoas celebrated as they waited in line to get donations at a makeshift animal shelter organized by volunteers.

"So much bad news, but this rescue does give people here some more hope," said Guilherme Santos, 23, as he sought dog food for his two puppies. "If they can rescue a horse, why not all dogs that are still missing? We can definitely do this."

Carla Sassi, chairwoman of Grad, a Brazilian nonprofit that rescues animals after disasters, said she is meeting with state government officials in Canoas to discuss emergency measures to rescue pets.

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