Death toll from floods and landslides in northeastern region climbs to 106, with an expert warning "we'll be mourning more deaths" unless authorities act to protect poor communities from new weather-related tragedies.
Flooding and landslides triggered by torrential rain have now killed at least 106 people in northeastern Brazil, officials said as emergency workers continued a desperate search and an expert warned of tragedies striking again unless authorities act to protect poor communities in high-risk areas.
The force of the landslides ripped apart houses in neighbourhoods including Jardim Monteverde, a poor community just outside the city of Recife. Locals have likened the roaring surge of mud to a tsunami.
"It was a tragedy. I lost a lot of friends," 49-year-old resident Maria Heronize told the AFP news agency on the verge of tears.
Rescue teams have found dozens of bodies buried after floodwater tore through the neighborhood on Saturday.
Six more bodies –– the last of those reported missing in the neighborhood –– were recovered on Friday, bringing the search there to an end, the Pernambuco state government said.
Elsewhere, at least eight people remain missing, said disaster management officials for the state, scene of the latest in a series of deadly weather disasters to hit Brazil in recent months.
Crews are using dogs trained to sniff for people and planes to locate the missing.
At least 24 municipalities in Pernambuco have declared a state of emergency and more than 6,000 people have lost their homes or been forced to flee.
'We'll be mourning more deaths'
President Jair Bolsonaro drew criticism for sounding dismissive after saying "unfortunately these tragedies happen, a country the size of a continent has its share of problems."
Weather-related tragedies are becoming a familiar trend in Brazil. They tend to hit hardest in poor neighbourhoods, especially hillside favelas, or slums.
"Climate change could be responsible for the rise in extreme, violent rain that is being detected not only in Brazil but around the world," Jose Marengo, research coordinator at the National Center for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alerts, told AFP.
Unless authorities act to protect poor communities in high-risk areas, those tragedies will likely keep happening as the climate crisis slowly advances, Marengo noted.
"The rainy season is just starting in the northeast, and we may see a lot more such phenomena this year," Marengo said.
"If people and the cities aren't prepared, we'll be mourning more and more deaths."
In February, 233 people were killed in floods and landslides in the historic southeastern city of Petropolis, in Rio de Janeiro state.
In January, torrential rains claimed at least 28 lives in southeastern Brazil, mostly in Sao Paulo state.