MUÇUM (Brazil): In his 74 years, Humberto Simonaio had never experienced anything like it: the cyclone that hit southern Brazil swelled the Taquari river so badly it inundated even high ground he had never seen flood before.
Simonaio, the owner of a beloved, half-century-old ice cream parlor called Keko in the hard-hit town of Mucum, said he knew he needed to get his freezers and other equipment to higher ground as last week’s storm headed toward the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, packing torrential rains.
But he never imagined the local river would become such a torrent it would also overrun the supposedly safe spot he took them to, a friend’s shed in one of the highest parts of the city, he said.
“Since the day I was born, I’d never had to evacuate because of a flood,“ said Simonaio, who had a machine swept several meters (yards) away by the current but plans to reopen soon.
“I don’t know why these storms have gotten so big. This was the biggest in our history,“ he told AFP.
Mucum, population 4,600, is hardly alone: experts say extreme weather events are growing more common around the world, hitting places like Hong Kong, Greece and Libya this month alone, as climate change fuels bigger, deadlier disasters and governments struggle to adapt.
A week after the storm hit Mucum, the town is still cleaning the mud and wreckage from its streets and mourning its dead.
Sixteen of the nearly 50 people killed in the cyclone were found here. Dozens of others are still missing across the region.
“Human lives are being seriously affected by the excessive warming of the atmosphere, which is resulting in extreme weather events in various parts of the world,“ said Dakir Larara Machado da Silva, a climate scientist at Rio Grande do Sul Federal University.
“Record heat waves, prolonged droughts, a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours -- it’s a ticking time bomb,“ added the professor, who got a first-hand view of the destruction when the storm hit his state.
“Areas that didn’t used to be affected (by floods) are starting to now.”
- ‘Here to stay’ -
In a neighborhood of Mucum called Fatima, the one hit hardest by the storm, 56-year-old teacher Ana Luisa Batiuci says she used to feel relatively safe: the house where she lives with her husband and daughter sits on a hilltop.
But they got more than a meter (three feet) of water inside.
“It had never risen so high,“ she told AFP, cleaning up the mud.
Selmar Klunk, 38, the director of a regional tourism association, was helping neighbors in the nearby town of Encantado save their belongings as the floodwaters rose.
After working through the night, he learned the flood had reached the parking lot where he left his car, two kilometers (more than a mile) from the river.
Machado da Silva called the disaster an “exceptional climate event” that “defies preventive measures” -- and will probably be repeated.
“It’s the start of something that’s here to stay,“ he said.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also linked the tragedy to the warming climate.
The planet is experiencing “an unprecedented climate emergency,“ he said from the G20 summit in New Delhi. - AFP