Saturday 28 December 2013

Flooding and landslides kill at least 47 in southeaster Brazil.

At least 44 people have died and over 65 000 have been driven from their homes as southeastern Brazil suffered the highest rainfall for 90 years this month. In Espirito Santo State 30 people are known to have died and over 61 000 more have been forced from their homes by flooding, which has affected 47 cities. Many more have lost power and clean water supplies, as rivers have burst their banks and landslides have swept away roads and bridges. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall. In neighboring Minas Gerais State 17 people are known to have died and over 4000 people force to leave their homes.

Flooding in Santa Maria de Jetiba in Espiritu Santo State on 19 December 2013. EFE.

Late December is peak rainy season in southern Brazil, but this year's rains have been exceptionally strong. Brazil has suffered a string of flood-related disasters in recent years, most notably in 2011, when over 800 people died. The country has a rapidly growing population, with little effective urban planning, which has led to sprawling urban developments springing up with little thought to natural hazards, and in particular poorer neighborhoods often expanding up unstable hillsides, with the result that when floods occur (which is not unusual) communities are often quickly overwhelmed. This years exceptional rains have led to more widespread flooding, which may also persist for longer, and there is a distinct danger that without determined action the death toll may exceed that of 2011.

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