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Brazil floods death toll nears 90 as rescue efforts continue amid skyscrapers of Porto Alegre

Protecting the Planet: Severe weather
Protecting the Planet: The impact of climate change on severe weather 21:18

Porto Alegre — From top to bottom, rescuers have been scouring buildings in Porto Alegre for inhabitants stuck in apartments or on rooftops as unprecedented flooding turned the streets of the Brazilian metropolis into rivers. In the state capital's Sarandi neighborhood, firefighters first evacuated people who had found refuge on the roofs of apartment buildings, then went in for those on the higher floors inside.

"Now, we are evacuating those on the second and third floors," Daniel Batista da Rocha, a fire fighter from the flood-battered southern state of Rio Grande do Sul told AFP mid-search on Sunday. But the task is complex in a city with many tall buildings, wide avenues, and some 1.4 million inhabitants.

"There is a lot of water... it is deep. The (rescue) boats are travelling at the same height as the power cables. So, to navigate, we must cut the cables," said Rocha, dressed in a wetsuit, life vest and yellow helmet.

Flooding due to heavy rains in Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul state
A drone view shows the flooded city center of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, May 5, 2024. Renan Mattos/REUTERS

The floods had killed at least 83 people in the state by early Monday morning, according to the civil defense agency, with dozens more missing and some 115,000 forced to leave their homes.

Besides Porto Alegre, hundreds of towns and villages were hit, leaving thousands of people without access to drinking water, electricity, telephone service or internet.

The clock was ticking for rescuers to reach those still unaccounted for in the worst climate disaster ever to befall the wealthy, southern region of Brazil. According to the Porto Alegre mayor's office, the level of the Guaiba River that runs past the city reached about 17.4 feet on Sunday — higher than the previous record recorded during historic flooding in 1941.

Volunteers were helping professional rescuers involved in the search operation.

Flooding due to heavy rains in Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul
People react after being rescued from flood in Porto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, May 4, 2024. Renan Mattos/REUTERS

"We are doing our best to help. Everyone helps in their own way," said volunteer Luis Eduardo da Silva, 32, from Porto Alegre.

His mission was to collect essential supplies such as life jackets, water and fuel to bring to those in need. He said those deliveries were being done in the daylight hours when it's "easier to locate" people amid the devastation.

"At night, it gets complicated," said Silva.

Brazil Heavy Rains
People evacuate on a surfboard from a neighborhood flooded by heavy rains, in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, May 4, 2024. Carlos Macedo/AP

People were also delivering bottled water and food to makeshift distribution points around the city, including gas stations.

The state government has appealed for donations of mattresses, sheets and personal hygiene products. Many neighbors were lending out boats and jet skis to aid the rescue effort.

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