The death toll from the rain in Brazil reaches 40; Lula calls for safer housing

SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil, Feb 20 (Reuters) – The death toll from devastating rainfall in southeastern Brazil rose to 40 on Monday, official figures showed, as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the region and said homes should no longer be built in areas at risk landslides and large floods.

Authorities in Sao Paulo state said on Monday that four more people had been killed in addition to the 36 counted a day earlier, but more injuries were still expected to be reported as three dozen people remained missing.

Lula flew over the coastal town of Sao Sebastiao with ministers and pledged to help rebuild the town of around 91,000 people by building new houses in safer places.

He also said that the government must work to restore important infrastructure facilities that are damaged by landslides.

The floods in the coastal state of Sao Paulo were the latest in a string of such disasters to hit Brazil recently, where shoddy construction, often on hillsides, has tended to have tragic consequences during the country’s rainy season.

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“Sometimes nature surprises us, but sometimes we also tempt nature,” Lula said in a speech after meeting Sao Paulo Governor Tarcisio de Freitas and Sao Sebastiao Mayor Felipe Augusto to coordinate their response to the disaster.

“I think it’s important that neither happens,” he added. “I express my solidarity with the people of Sao Sebastiao and hope this never happens again.”

The deluge occurred during Brazil’s Carnival holiday, when thousands flock to the region’s beaches, likely exacerbating the human toll of the natural disaster.

Sao Sebastiao was the epicenter of the flooding as 39 of the deaths were reported there, but heavy rainfall also affected nearby towns such as Ilhabela, Caraguatatuba and Ubatuba, where one casualty was reported, according to the Sao Paulo state government.

More than 2,000 people have been forced from their homes after more than 600 millimeters (23.62 inches) of rain pounded the coast of Brazil’s richest state, the government said, adding that it was the highest cumulative number ever in Brazil.

– It had been raining since Friday. The landslide reached one of the walls of our building, my mother’s and brother’s vehicles were damaged, says Ligia Carla Samia, who was rescued by helicopter. “It was like an avalanche. Thank God we survived.”

Many others remained stranded with roads blocked by landslides.

“At some points, we don’t even know what’s left of the Rio-Santos highway,” Freitas said after meeting Lula, referring to the main road that connects the region’s cities. “We even raise the possibility that it collapsed, that the highway no longer exists.”

He declared three days of mourning in the state and a 180-day state of disaster for six cities after the disaster, the latest in a series of recent natural disasters in Brazil.

More than 200 people were killed by landslides and floods in the colonial town of Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro about a year ago. The states of Bahia and Santa Catarina also suffered similar disasters recently.

Additional reporting and writing by Gabriel Araujo, editing by Franklin Paul and Sandra Maler

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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