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Major floods and landslides leave at least 57 people dead after heaviest rains since records began, Brazil


At least 57 people were confirmed dead on Monday, January 27, 2020, after days of intense downpour struck southeastern Brazil, triggering massive floods and landslides. Belo Horizonte city registered 171.8 mm (6.7 inches) of rain on Friday, January 24– the highest precipitation in the city since records began in 1910.

48 of the fatalities were in the worst-affected state of Minas Gerais, according to the state civil defense office. "Most of the deaths were registered in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state," it stated, adding that 19 others were missing.

Furthermore, most of the victims reportedly died when mudslides caused their homes to collapse, with at least two children being listed among the casualties.

Minas Gerais State governor Gustavo Zema has declared a state of emergency in 99 cities– a measure meant to implement federal disaster aid. He also decreed three days of official mourning for the victims.

As many as 20 000 people across the region have been forced to evacuate due to the threat of incessant rains that may further spark landslides and flooding. 2 000 more people were displaced in the Rio de Janeiro state city of Itaperuna.

In Alegre city, officials urged people to flee as a dam was in danger of bursting.

The victims were yet to be identified as they were buried under collapsed buildings or mudslides from heavy rainfall that began on Thursday, January 23. 

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According to AccuWeather meteorologist Maura Kelly, a cold front swept across eastern South America through the end of last week, dumping intermittent rain and thunderstorms from northern Argentina into eastern Brazil.

Ahead of this front, northerly winds helped to draw in tropical moisture from near the equator, which Kelly said fueled flooding downpours across eastern Brazil, particularly in the state of Minas Gerais.

"As the front moved into Minas Gerais on Thursday and Friday, daily rainfall totals climbed over 100 mm (4 inches) each day. On Thursday, Florestal received 174mm (6.85 inches) of rain," said Kelly.

"Farther north in Diamantina, 128 mm (5.04 inches) of rain fell on Friday with total rainfall of 350 mm (13.78 inches) from Monday to Friday. To the southeast, Caratinga reported 121mm (4.76 inches) on Saturday with 312 mm (12.28 inches) of rain throughout the week.

"The capital city of Belo Horizonte reported 154 mm (6.06 inches) from Thursday into Friday with 193 mm (7.60 inches) from Monday to Friday," Kelly added, noting that the normal rainfall in the region for the month of January is around 150 to 175 mm (6 to 6 inches)."

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Moreover, forecasts said the front to linger over the region into the middle of this week but will still bring periods of rain and thunderstorms across Minas Gerais as rescue and retrieval operations continue.

Featured image credit: Al Jazeera (stillshot)

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