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After floods in Brazil, survivors grapple with loss, violence and fear

How the rain affected the city of Esteio in Rio Grande do Sul. (Photo from the Esteio city government.)

BRAZIL – Since late April, the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul has been facing extreme amounts of rain that caused massive flooding, devastated communities, spurred violence and instilled fear of further disaster.

In interviews, three young women from Rio Grande do Sul told Youth Journalism International about the impact of the rain and flooding.

According to Andressa Reis,  a 21-year-old student of architecture who lives in Santa Maria, the heavy rains have been a part of her life since childhood.

“These incidents are now occurring every six months, and the tendency is for them to become even more frequent,” said Reis.

“Initially, the rain seemed like just another ordinary storm. But, as time passed, the situation became increasingly desperate and worrying. Even now, we are still trying to understand the true dimension of this crisis. There is no number that can describe how many people have been affected,” said Reis.

A landslide in Santa Maria. (Santa Maria city government photo.)

When the rains came, it took 19-year-old Sofia Mazin and her family eight hours to evacuate from their city of Esteio to take shelter in the family’s house on the beach.

The route typically takes just one hour.

The arrow points to the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, the part of Brazil that experienced the recent flooding disaster. (Google Maps)

Mazin, who studies mechanical engineering, said the flooding this year isn’t atypical.

“Every year we experience blackouts and run out of water, and nothing is done to evacuate risk regions,” said Mazin.

Sofia Mazin. (Photo courtesy of Sofia Mazin.)

“As I live in a mountainous city, we had landslides that killed many lives. The rain flooded lots of properties, including my university. The water destroyed some bridges,” said Reis. “We couldn’t access running water for a couple of days, and as time passed, the food supply in supermarkets ran out.”

Maria Reisdorfer, 19, lives in Caxias do Sul.

“The impacts were the city’s largest dams that exceeded safety levels in a matter of two days of rain and called an overflow alert and reached the surrounding neighborhoods. Neighborhoods were evacuated, and people had to leave their homes under pressure and heavy rain, with concerns about whether the dams would hold,” said Reisdorfer.

Reisdorfer said the Galópolis neighborhood, which had been a site of land exploration in the past, was one of the most affected. Without trees to anchor the soil, it quickly washed away and buried houses before all residents had time to evacuate, she said.

Civil defense and rescue team members look for victims in the landslide in Santa Maria on May 1st. (Santa Maria city government photo.)

Violence came with the rain

The women said that people who are displaced by the floods are preyed upon by criminals.

“It is shocking to witness how people take advantage of a moment of crisis, moments like this to commit criminal acts,” said Reis. “From looting in markets and scams on donation links, that is, fake donations, diverting resources that were intended for emergencies.”

Andressa Reis. (Photo courtesy of Andressa Reis.)

Even the youngest victims are not safe.

“Children are highly vulnerable, in addition to having lost everything, they are at risk in shelters due to sexual assault,” said Reis.

Mazin agreed.

“There are many cases of sexual assault in shelters, so much so that female volunteers are being advised not to walk alone or leave children unattended,” said Mazin.

Reisdorfer said, “Violence that used to happen in our communities is now losing control. These inhumane actions that are happening at a critical moment really scare me.”

Mazin’s family even hired a security company to protect the house from thieves, who are taking advantage of the current vulnerability to break in and steal.


Life changed dramatically with the flooding, and it can be frightening when clouds look like rain.

“We’re really afraid and apprehensive, especially because we didn’t know what would happen. Before the first storm started, there was little or no publicity, warnings, or even news, many people didn’t even know about the rain forecast and even less about the magnitude,” said Reisdorfer.

When the rain started and flooding began in front of Sofia Mazin’s house. (Photo courtesy of Sofia Mazin.)

Mazin, too, described “a lot of fear” of rain that just keeps pouring.

“Until now we are very scared, tense,” said Mazin. “It’s a huge tension. When the rains started, I said every day that I hated rain. It’s terrifying and makes you very nervous.

“Every day is tense. Every time it’s stuffy, it’s going to rain. And when it rains, it doesn’t stop, six days in a row of rain, with more rain coming, the backyard turns into a swimming pool,” said Mazin.

Reisdorfer’s city not only struggled with rainfalls but also experienced tremors or a small earthquake.

“We’re very worried about the earthquakes that happened on May 13th. We believe that the rains are causing them,” said Reisdorfer.

Since most of the existing roads are compromised, people cannot move and receive supplies, except by airplanes.

“This rain brought anguish and fear to us,” said Reisdorfer.

A landslide in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul. (Santa Maria city government photo.)

Who is responsible?

All three put some of the blame on government leaders.

“It is a direct result of environmental irresponsibility, which is reflected in all political decisions, not just at the state level, but throughout the country, including decisions dating back decades but also very recent decisions,” Reis said.

Mazin said, “Climate change is one of the explanations for what is happening, and the lack of prevention from the government.”

“Contingency actions in Brazil must protect people from future tragedies,” said Reisdorfer.

Reisdorfer called the flooding “a predictable disaster.”

“What we’re living today are the disproportional consequences of the El Niño and climate change that are worse than ever,” said Reisdorfer.  El Niño, a natural phenomenon that heats the Pacific Ocean, affects countries along the Equator and in Brazil, causes more rains in the Southern region and drought in the Northern.

Maria Reisdorfer. (Photo courtesy of Maria Reisdorfer.)

According to Brazilian physicist Paulo Artaxo, who is a member of the International Panel of Climate Change and a researcher at the University of São Paulo, this climate tragedy was influenced by several things.

“All climatic models are showing that with the increase in global temperatures, rains, and droughts will intensify, meaning that weather events will become more extreme,” Artaxo told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

“The climate has already changed, it will continue to change, and it mainly impacts the low-income population, so it is a strong factor in income concentration. Today we improvise, and this improvisation causes many additional deaths and losses for the low-income population, who have nowhere to go,” Artaxo told the newspaper.

Maringá’s Fire Department dedicated two weeks to gathering donations and volunteers to help the Rio Grande do Sul. (Nicole Luna/ YJI)

Heavy rains increase empathy

Mazin’s aunt, in addition to having lost everything, spent six days on the second floor of a house asking for rescue, and trying to save her two pet cats.

“Everyone lost their personal and movable property. A lot of people had to go to shelters,” said Mazin. She added that neighbors and friends supported each other and NGOs in the city gave a lot of support.

The rain brought a feeling of sadness throughout the entire country, but it has been mobilizing thousands of volunteers from diverse places in Brazil to collaborate in shelters and through national and international fundraising initiatives. 

To help the affected state, fire departments, municipal halls, post offices and other institutions both private and public are gathering donations from all corners of Brazil.

In Maringá, around 16 volunteer trucks mobilized to carry the donations.

“We’re receiving more than expected,” said Chief Leandro José Callegari of the Maringá Fire Department.

According to Callegari, the initiative gathered around 130,000 liters of water and 145,000 kilograms of food, hygienic and cleaning supplies, and pet food.

Callegari said hundreds of people have helped.

Supplies for flooding victims collected in Maringá. (Nicole Luna/YJI)

“The Fire Department of Parana State is also sending specialized teams to collaborate with the nearby state. This is not the first time we’ve done this type of work,” said Callegari. “Our mission is helping the most vulnerable people.”

According to the Rio Grande do Sul State Civil Defense, the rain flooded more than 400 communities in the state and impacted almost 3 million people.

As of May 21, the number of dead from the flooding is at 161, and 82 citizens are still missing, according to G1 – Globo, a Brazilian television news organization.

Nicole Luna is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from Maringá, Brazil. Cassiane Saraiva is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Belford Roxo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Together they reported and wrote this story.

More from YJI about flooding in Brazil:

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  • The aftermath of floods in Brazil paints a heartbreaking picture of loss, compounded by the harsh realities of violence and fear. As survivors navigate through the devastation, their resilience shines amidst unimaginable challenges. It’s a stark reminder of the urgent need for support, solidarity, and swift action to rebuild lives and communities torn apart by natural disasters.