November 30, 2008

110 Killed in Brazilian Flood

ENVIRONMENTAL - Rescue workers seized a window of clear skies Sunday to resume searching for victims of devastating floods that have killed 110 people and ravaged more than a dozen cities in southern Brazil.

Right: A flood victim carries donated clothes at a shelter set up in a school in Gaspar, Brazil, Nov. 29, 2008. Flooding and mudslides have ravaged southern parts of the country.

Heavy rains subsided, allowing authorities to continue looking for 19 people thought to be missing across Santa Catarina state and to boost aid to some 80,000 people whom floods have driven from their homes in the past week.

Bad weather had grounded air force helicopters on Saturday, slowing rescue efforts. Rains are forecast to resume in coming days, increasing the risk of mudslides.

The floods had killed 110 people as of Sunday morning, the state's civil defence department said. Nine bodies were pulled from beneath the mud and rubble the day before.

Nearly 80,000 people were taking shelter in churches, schools, gymnasiums and other public buildings, relying on volunteers and troops for medicine, food, water and clothes.

Officials on Sunday opened an army field hospital near the hard-hit cities of Itajai and Ilhota, where 39 people have died, mostly in mudslides.

The rains that devastated 30 towns in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina could be an early consequence of global warming, a climatologist from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said Friday.

Climatologist Carlos Nobre told Globo TV that heavy, persistent rains in southern Brazil usually coincide with the climate phenomenon known as El Nino, which warms up the Pacific Ocean. However, this was not the case this year.

“In the years when the El Nino phenomenon does not happen, like now, and there are very intense rains, their causes still remain mysterious for meteorology. It is already possible to start to identify some relationship with global warming, both in the increase of intense rain and in the drought in the south,” he said.

According to Nobre, southern Brazil is more vulnerable to climatic problems, as it is here that warm, humid air coming from the north converges with cold, dry masses from the south.

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