SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil: President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday (Feb 20) visited areas hit by devastating rainfall in southeastern Brazil as the death toll from flooding that has so far claimed 36 lives was expected to climb further as dozens remained missing.
Lula flew over the coastal town of Sao Sebastiao alongside cabinet ministers before meeting with local officials, who confirmed some 40 people were still missing while others remained stranded with roads blocked by landslides.
The devastating rains in coastal Sao Paulo state came amid Brazil's Carnival holiday period, when thousands usually travel to spend their break on the region's beaches, likely aggravating the outcome of the natural disaster.
According to the Sao Paulo state government, Sao Sebastiao was the epicenter of flooding as 35 deaths were reported there, but heavy rainfall also affected nearby towns such as Ilhabela, Caraguatatuba and Ubatuba, where one casualty was reported.
More than 1,700 people had been forced from their homes, the government added, while Governor Tarcisio de Freitas said earlier in the day that at least 40 people were still missing. He declared three days of mourning in the state and a 180-day state of calamity for six towns after the disaster.
Freitas met with Lula on Monday to coordinate their response to the tragedy, with a news conference expected to follow.
The coastal floods were the latest in a series of such disasters to strike Brazil, where shoddy construction, often on hillsides, has tended to have tragic consequences during the country's rainy season.
In February 2022, more than 200 people were killed by mudslides and floods in the colonial-era city of Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro, while the states of Bahia and Santa Catarina also suffered from natural disasters recently.