Brazil braces for more heavy rain after downpours kill 56 and displace thousands

At least another 56 people are missing and more than 3,900 people have also lost their homes in the the rain, Brazil’s Minister of Regional Development Daniel Ferreira said on Sunday. At least 25 people have been injured.

The Pernambuco civil defense has urged residents living in high-risk areas around the city of Recife to seek shelter elsewhere after the rain caused landslides there. Schools in Recife have opened to shelter displaced families.

An aerial view from Olinda region of Recife after floods and landslides caused by heavy rains in Pernambuco, Brazil on May 29, 2022.

Brazil’s northeast has been suffering from exceptionally high volumes of rain, officials say. Some areas have registered more rain in a 24-hour period over the weekend than the total volume expected for the month of May.

Some parts of the state had a repreive from the rain Monday as showers moved toward the coast, but Pernambuco is forecast to get another 30-60 mm of rain in the next two days, while isolated areas could see over 100 mm. The region could experience more than half a month’s worth of rainfall in just four days, between Saturday over the weekend until the end of Tuesday.

Gusts — which can lead to power outages and falling debris — could also be as high has 100 kph.

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The weekend downpour triggered the fourth major flooding event in five months in Brazil, according to a Reuters report, which highlighted a lack of urban planning in low-income neighborhoods throughout much of the country. Favelas — slums or shantytowns — are often erected on hillsides prone to giving way, usually outside major cities.

In December, downpours caused two dams to burst in nearby Bahia state, killing dozens and submerging entire streets.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said the military would assist those impacted and that he would travel to Recife on Monday to assess the situation.

“Our Government made available, from the first moment, all its means to help those affected, including the Armed Forces,” he tweeted on Sunday.

The climate crisis is making destructive extreme weather more common globally. As temperatures rise, the mean amount of rain in this part of Brazil is actually projected to decrease, but extreme rain events are expected to occur more frequently and intensely, according to scientific projections published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That means some parts of Brazil will experience more prolonged droughts as well as more frequent and extreme rainfall events, which together make it more vulnerable to floods.

Why landslides occur is more complex, but they often happen during heavy rainfall in areas that have been overly deforested and built upon.