A winter storm hit the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul on Friday with torrential rains, killing four people, leaving nine missing and prompting a helicopter search and rescue for victims wading into flooded neighborhoods, authorities said.
The storm system that hit the country was an extratropical cyclone. Such storms have cold air at their cores and are typically associated with cold fronts, National Weather Service meteorologists said.
Gov. Said Eduardo Leite of Rio Grande do Sul Chirping that officials’ top priority on Friday was « finding the missing and rescuing people who may still be stranded by the floods. »
The four confirmed victims were all men: a 23-year-old and a 27-year-old in São Leopoldo; a 69-year-old in Maquiné; and a sixty-year-old in Novo Hamburgo.
In Maquiné, a municipality on the east coast and one of the areas hardest hit by the storm, dozens of residents forced from their homes headed for shelters for food and dry clothes, the Rio Grande do Sul government said. Local authorities have issued a landslide warning.
As of Friday night, Maquiné had received nearly a foot of rain in one day, damaging rural properties and homes, authorities said in a Press release. Two family members of the man who died in the city were still missing, they said.
In some streets in Maquiné, the flooding was so severe that « part of the asphalt had eroded away, » authorities said. The rain also threatened the area’s agriculture, the backbone of Maquiné’s economy. As of Friday evening, one property in the city suffered a total loss of its lettuce production, officials said.
In total, more than 1,700 people in the state were seeking shelter after the storm, authorities said.
Government videos showed a wetsuit rescuer pulling a man and dog onto a helicopter as tawny floodwaters swirled below. Photos showed firefighters trudging through swampy streets covered in purple graffiti while carrying a person in a wheelchair.
The wheels of the fire truck were half submerged.
Firefighters also rescued patients from a flooded health center in Sapiranga, a town about 75 miles west of Maquiné. In a photo of that rescue, a man is shown lying on a boat inside the health center.
Brazil has experienced deadly storms in the recent past. In 2021, at least 20 people were killed after catastrophic flooding hit northeastern Brazil. In 2020, heavy rains in southeast Brazil killed at least 47 people and forced more than 18,000 from their homes.
A powerful summer storm in Rio de Janeiro in 2019 killed at least six people as streets turned into rivers and mudslides destroyed homes and buried a bus, where two of the dead were found.
Last year, powerful mudslides and floods hit a mountainous region north of Rio de Janeiro, dumping a month’s rain overnight and killing at least 94 people.
Flooding is a complex phenomenon with many causes, including land development and soil conditions.
While linking climate change to a single flood event requires in-depth scientific analysis, climate change, which is already causing more rainfall in many storms, is an increasingly important part of the mix. The warmer atmosphere holds and releases more water, both in the form of rain and heavy winter snow.