A winter storm slammed the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul with torrential rain on Friday, killing four people, leaving nine missing and prompting a helicopter search and rescue for victims wading in flooded neighborhoods, the authorities said.
The storm system that struck the country was an extra-tropical cyclone. Such storms have cold air at their core and are typically associated with cold fronts, meteorologists with the National Weather Service said.
Gov. Eduardo Leite of Rio Grande do Sul said on Twitter that officials’ main priority on Friday was “to find the missing and save 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 60-year-old in Novo Hamburgo.
In Maquiné, a municipality on the eastern coastline and one of the areas hardest hit by the storm, dozens of residents forced out of their homes trekked to shelters for food and dry clothes, the government of Rio Grande do Sul said. The authorities there issued a warning for a risk of landslides.
As of Friday night, Maquiné had received nearly a foot of rain in one day, damaging rural properties and homes, the authorities said in a news release. Two family members of the man who died in the city were still missing, they said.
On some streets in Maquiné, the flooding was so severe that “part of the asphalt had eroded,” the authorities said. The rain was also threatening the area’s agriculture, the backbone of Maquiné’s economy. As of Friday night, one property in the city had 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, the authorities said.
Videos from the government showed a rescuer in a wet suit pulling a man and a dog up into a helicopter as tawny floodwaters swirled below. Photos showed firefighters trudging through swamped, purple graffiti-covered streets as they carried a person in a wheelchair.
The wheels of the firefighters’ vehicle were half submerged.
Firefighters also rescued patients from a flooded health care center in Sapiranga, a city about 75 miles west of Maquiné. In a photo of that rescue, a man is shown lying on a boat inside the health care center.
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 flooding swept through a mountainous region north of Rio de Janeiro, dumping a month’s worth of rain overnight and killing at least 94 people.
Flooding is a complex phenomenon with many causes, including land development and ground conditions.
While linking climate change to a single flood event requires extensive scientific analysis, climate change, which is already causing heavier rainfall in many storms, is an increasingly important part of the mix. Warmer atmosphere holds, and releases, more water, whether in the form of rain or heavy winter snowpack.