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84 killed, 54,000 evacuated in Brazil flooding

Waters of the overflowed Itajay river almost reach the Itajay cathedral, some 200 km from Florianopolis in southern Brazil, on November 25, 2008. Authorities in Brazil raised to 65 the number of people killed in weekend flooding and landslides in the southern state of Santa Catarina. The heaviest precipitation the region had seen in more than a quarter of century also forced 44,000 people from their homes, many of which were still submerged in water and mud, according to the Civil Defense service. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Sao Paulo (AFP) Nov 25, 2008
At least 84 people have been killed and more than 54,000 forced to flee by flooding from heavy rain that has pounded southern Brazil for nearly two months, regional Civil Defense officials said Tuesday.

With the latest figures released Tuesday the death toll climbed from 67 to 84, and the number of evacuees from 52,000 to more than 54,000.

The region faces "the worst weather tragedy in history," Santa Catarina Governor Luiz Henrique da Silveira told reporters on Monday.

Making matters worse, torrential rain hitting the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina actually has intensified in recent days, officials said.

Civil Defense workers, firefighters, soldiers and police across the area have been busy for weeks rescuing people trapped by the flooding.

Civil Defense officials also said the death toll could rise considerably as casualty reports come in from rural areas.

More than 1.5 million people have been affected by the heavy rains, and eight cities remained cut off by waters and blocked roads. The region has been under a state of emergency since Saturday.

The most heavily affected towns are Ilhota (population 22,000, 18 dead) and the tourist town of Blumenau (population 297,000, 20 dead) where many German immigrants settled.

The head of Santa Catarina Civil Defense operations, Marcio Alves, said that most people were killed by landslides. "Most deaths happen when the rain stops and people go out believing that all is well," he said.

Another Civil Defense official, Robert Guimaraes, said "nearly 80 percent of the region is under water," though levels were dropping.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has ordered six military helicopters and 350 soldiers to the area to help in relief operations.

The latest flooding resulted from freak rains on Sunday that delivered a month's amount of precipitation in just five hours.

Boats were the only means of transport in many areas, and witnesses spoke of the bodies of dozens of drowned cows littering the road near Blumenau.

"We heard people crying for help. We also heard explosions. With the ground saturated, several gas pipelines exploded," one Santa Catarina resident forced to leave her home, Beatriz Heusi, 30, told AFP by telephone.

More than 160,000 people were without electricity and fresh water supplies were cut to several towns.

Other southern Brazilian states, principally Rio Grande do Sul and Espirito Santo were affected to a lesser extent by flooding and mudslides.

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Flash Before The Flood
Tel Aviv, Israel (SPX) Nov 24, 2008
Flash floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, and because of their unpredictability they're the leading weather-related cause of death for Americans. They usually arrive with little or no warning, but a Tel Aviv University researcher is trying to predict where and when they will occur using lightning.

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