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Brazil: Over 80 deaths in the worst environmental tragedy

Over 80 people have been killed in landslides and floods caused by heavy rain in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, and the death toll is rising by the minute, as rescue workers sift through the wreckage of the flooding that started at the weekend. At the moment, it is believed that 1.5 million people have been affected, and about 160,000 people are without electricity. There is no drinking water either, and people are starting to suffer from hunger too. Many of the roads in the region have been blocked by mud and water and eight towns have been cut off by the flood waters.

The federal government have helped by providing helicopters and boats to try to reach stranded residents,  other states are sending aid, including clothes and food. Santa Catarina declared a state of emergency. This has been already declared the worse environmental tragedy in Brazil, and the rainy season is only beginning. Robson Souza [pt] has taken many pictures with his mobile phone and published them on his blog. They report on the situation in Itajaí from 5:20 through 15:30, local time, on November 24:

Over 50,000 people were left homeless by weekend rains as 20,000 homes were destroyed. Some of them are living in shelters improvised by local authorities. Rogério Christofoletti [pt], also from Itajaí, is one of the 20,000 people sheltered at friends’ houses:

Cerca de 80% da cidade de Itajaí está sob as águas, e todas as classes sociais estão atingidas. Dos miseráveis aos ricaços, ninguém foi poupado. Mesmo quem não foi diretamente atingido está sofrendo as conseqüências: veja o caso dos meus amigos Isaías e Raquel, que acolheram a minha família e mais outras duas em seu apartamento. A cidade deve sofrer nas próximas horas com falta de água, alimentos, combustíveis… Boa parte da cidade, metade dela, está sem energia elétrica. Deixei minha casa, e depois conferi que cerca de 30 ou 40 cm de água havia invadido o local. Não pude permanecer lá. Saí no domingo de manhã, antes mesmo da água chegar. Fui com mulher e filho para um local seguro, e em seguida, fomos auxiliar no Colégio Dom Bosco, onde centenas de pessoas chegavam molhadas, com frio, com fome, e sem nenhuma esperança. Perderam tudo. Distribuindo roupas para as pessoas, eu via nos olhos delas um misto de vergonha, de desalento, de perplexidade. Um sofrimento intenso, difícil de escrever aqui.

About 80% of Itajaí city is under water, and all social classes are affected. From the very rich to very poor, no one was spared. Even those who were not directly affected have been suffering the consequences: like my friends Isaías and Raquel, who welcomed my family and two others into their flat. The city shall suffer in the next few hours with a lack of water, food, fuel… Much of the city, half of it, has no electricity. I left my home and then checked that about 30 or 40cm of water had invaded the place. I could not stay there. I left on Sunday morning, before the water reached [us]. I went with my wife and son to a safer place and then we went to help at Don Bosco College, where hundreds of people were arriving wet, cold, hungry and without any hope. They had lost everything. When I was distributing clothes to people, I saw in their eyes a mix of shame, hopelessness, perplexity. An intense suffering, it is hard to write here.

Coré [pt], from beach resort Balneário Camboriú, went to work at the weekend normally, just to realise later how serious the situation was:

Ao chegar lá a loja estava vazia, e ficou assim boa parte do tempo até começarem a chegar os primeiros “sobreviventes” das enchentes – pessoas simples que perderam tudo e foram retirados de barco pela defesa civil. Na hora tive que manter o jogo de cintura e continuar a sorrir, por mais que todas as pessoas com quem trabalho ficassem com aquela cara de “mas eim?” ou “que absurdo!” porém no fundo cada pessoa que entrava na loja era um pedaço do meu coração que quebrava, cada centavo que eles gastavam na expectativa de começar tudo do zero era uma lágrima que eu queria que caisse do meu rosto. No entando continuei ali, sorrindo.

When I arrived there, the shop was empty, and it was like this much of the time until the first “survivors” of the flood started to arrive – poor people who had lost everything and were taken by boat by the civil defense. At the time I had to be flexible and continue to smile, even if all the people who I work with had that “but WHAT?” or “that is absurd!” face. But deep down, for every person who entered the shop a piece of my heart broke, every penny they spent in anticipation of starting everything from scratch was a tear that I wanted to shed on my face. However I was still there, smiling.

Gambá [pt] from Blumenau is now trying to get back to normal:

É assim mesmo. Depois que as águas baixam, começa imediatamente o trabalho de limpeza. Uma tarefa difícil que requer muito esforço físico e controle emocional. Primeiro a retirada da lama acumulada (mais ou menos 20 cm), ver o que pode ser lavado, reaproveitado, esperar secar e recolocar tudo no lugar. Como ainda não temos água nas torneiras, hoje passei o dia desmontando o que restou dessa garagem aí em cima. Tô morto de cansado. E amanhã tem mais. Muito mais.

Way to go. Once the waters go down, the cleaning work begins immediately. It is a very difficult task that requires physical effort and emotional control. First there is the removal of the mud (more or less 20cm) accumulated, then we see what can be washed, reused, we wait for it to dry and put everything in place. As yet we do not have running water, I spent the day today taking down what remained of the garage up there. I am exhausted. And tomorrow there is more. Much more.

The picture above was taken by Rodrigo Stulzer [pt], who happened to be going to Santa Catarina for the weekend and documented the floods. They reminded him of another holiday he spent in the state as a child:

Eu já havia pego em 1983 uma grande enchente em Santa Catarina. Estávamos eu e minha mãe, de barraca, em Balneário Camboriú. Os primeiros dias foram muito legais. Íamos para a praia de dia e à noite eu brincava com as outras crianças do camping. Joguei muitas partidas de War naquelas férias. Mas daí a chuva começou… e não parou mais. Acabamos ilhados no camping e conseguimos ir até a casa de uma amiga, depois que a água baixou um pouco. O desespero bateu quando a água quase entrou no banheiro do camping, onde estávamos, junto com as outras pessoas. Eu tinha 12 anos e chorei de medo. Back to 2008 e eu agora casado e com um filho de 6 anos. Os tempos mudam mas a natureza continua a mesma.

I had seen a big flood in Santa Catarina in 1983. We, me and my mother, were camping in Camboriú Spa. The first days were very nice. We went to the beach by day and at night I played with other children in the camp. I played many War games those holidays. But then the rain started… and it did not stop. We were just isolated in the camp till we managed to go to a friend's house after the water dropped a little. Desperation came when the water almost hit the camp's bathroom, where we were, along with other people. I was 12 and cried with fear. Back in 2008 and now married and with a 6 year old child. Times change but nature remains the same.

Many new blogs and citizen media initiatives have been set up quickly in this time of tragedy. Itajaí Council decided to publish a last minute blog, with updates about the heavy rains in the city. Also from Itajaí, Blog dos Desabrigados [Blog of the Displaced, pt] has a search system where people can find where their friends or relatives have been sheltered, and for people to ask for news of their missing loved ones. A volunteer supporting network has also been set up at Arca de Noé [Noah's Ark, pt] blog, where people can send photos and videos, provide news on the situation in some places and also find out how to help and about volunteer opportunities. One of the twitter tags is #SC.

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