Rio de Janeiro : The number of people killed in accidents related to heavy rains in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina rose to 72 Tuesday.
According to the latest report by Civil Defence authorities, close to 54,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes and 137,000 homes had no power.
Four cities had declared a state of catastrophe and eight municipalities had been cut off from the outside world, the authorities said.
Civil Defence officials warned that the number of dead could continue to rise, since several people remained missing in the wake of collapses of buildings and mudslides.
The Army was taking part in rescue efforts, with four planes, 17 trucks and 12 boats helping evacuate isolated people.
Teams from the neighbouring states of Parana, Sao Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul had also been deployed in the affected region.
The federal government freed Tuesday some $17 million to repair roads in the area as soon as possible. Many of the affected towns could only receive food by helicopter.
Rain caused widespread destruction in 30 municipalities in Santa Catarina, where some 1.5 million people live. The worst affected cities were Ilhota, Blumenau and Jaragua do Sul, where half of the deaths happened.
According to state authorities, in many towns there was starting to be looting in homes and food stores, while in other places, like Blumenau, the price of food doubled to make the situation even more dramatic.
The storm also had serious economic consequences, virtually closing off access to the state’s tourist resorts and causing damage to two portions of the Bolivia-Brazil gas pipe in the city of Joinville.
State-owned oil company Petrobras said some three weeks would be needed to solve the problem, which cut off the supply of natural gas to several industries in Santa Catarina and the neighbouring state of Rio Grande do Sul. The available fuel was mainly being directed to hospitals in the area.
According to Santa Catarina Civil Defence manager Emerson Neri, things could get worse in the coming days since mild rain was expected Tuesday and heavy rain was expected Wednesday.
This is the third major climatic disaster in Santa Catarina in the past 25 years. The worst happened in 1974, when mudslides and collapsed homes due to rain left close to 200 dead. In 1983, 140 people died in a similar disaster.
Geologist Maria Lucia Hermman, an expert in environmental catastrophes at the Santa Catarina Federal University, said these periodic tragedies reflect the state’s inability to reverse the environmental damage caused by the disorderly occupation of land in the region.
The expert noted that a large portion of the residents of the Santa Catarina coast live in mountain areas which, due to their geological conditions, are more vulnerable to mudslides in case of heavy rains.