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Worst flooding in 80 years devastates Brazil

10 May 2024

MARCELO SCHEIDER/WCC

One of the rescue teams at work in the state capital, Porto Alegre

One of the rescue teams at work in the state capital, Porto Alegre

EXTREME flooding in Brazil has killed at least 90 people, and many more are still missing. Huge areas are under water, and some towns are cut off entirely.

The Roman Catholic Church said that many of its churches were now operating as shelters and distribution centres where they stood clear of the floods in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. Rivers burst their banks, and the state capital, Porto Alegre, was left underwater, in the worst flooding to hit the region in 80 years. Those who survived have been made homeless, and many are sleeping by the roadside.

Pope Francis said on Sunday that he was praying for the people affected by floods. “May the Lord welcome the dead, and comfort their families and those who had to abandon their homes,” he said.

The Bishop of Bagé, the Rt Revd Cleonir Paulo Dalbosco OFM, said that churches had been collecting food and hygiene kits for the most affected communities. “There’s an overspread feeling of solidarity, and volunteers are helping in every form the people in need,” he told the news website Crux.

In the wine-growing region of Bento Gonçalves, residents fled to higher locations to await rescue. Sixty families are now sheltering in one church.

Bishop Dalbosco said that social-media sites were promoting theories that the flooding was a punishment from God for a recent Madonna concert and the practice of Umbanda, a Brazilian folk religion.

“Opportunistic people are taking advantage of the victims of such tragedy in a moment of pain and suffering. Talking about a ‘punishment of God’ in a moment like that is something atrocious,” he said.

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, sent a message of solidarity to churches in southern Brazil.

“With all my colleagues and indeed the whole global fellowship of churches, I wish to send my deepest sympathy to you and pledge our continued solidarity with the people and churches of Southern Brazil as you endure this latest catastrophic flooding, loss of life, and widespread destruction of homes, roads, and bridges.

“We feel the widespread suffering, horrible loss, crippling uncertainty, and deep grief experienced by Brazilians across the region. We grieve with you, and we pledge our deep solidarity, praying and working alongside Brazil’s churches and relief agencies to alleviate the suffering and restore order.

“When such a disaster strikes and our hearts are broken, we naturally ask where God is in these circumstances. Let us know that such disasters are not part of ‘God’s plan.’ The God of Life’s intent is for the flourishing of life and justice and well-being of all. God’s love and presence are always and everywhere with us and for us.”

The region sits at a geographical meeting point between tropical and polar atmospheres, giving rise to weather patterns that include periods of intense rain and drought, but it is thought that the climate crisis has made these patterns more extreme.

The President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said that the floods were the largest experienced. “Never before in the history of Brazil had there been such a quantity of rain in one single location,” he said.

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