BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – Heavy rain and flooding led to deaths and destruction in Brazil while a heat wave tormented much of Argentina, ushering in a destructive beginning to the Southern Hemisphere summer.
A heavy downpour across eastern portion of the central Brazilian state of Minas Gerais led to widespread flooding and landslides. Nearly two weeks of the inclement weather has led to 21 deaths in the state alone, with homes destroyed and buried in mudslides while entire villages and small towns were swept away.
In Minas Gerais, thousands more have also been injured due to the storms while 70,000 people have been displaced, according to the state’s Civil Defense department.
In the neighboring state of Espírito Santo, directly to the east, floods and mudslides left even more deaths in their wake as 23 people lost their lives. Over 60,000 were evacuated from nearly 60 different municipalities in the hilly regions of the state.
Civil Defense departments from both states stressed that numbers of the dead, injured, missing, and displaced are expected to rise as rescuers reach a greater number of the more remote areas affected by the weather.
Thousands of flights were either delayed or canceled in Brazil while President Dilma Rousseff, a native of Minas Gerais, cut her vacation short in order to visit the devastated areas. As the leader of the nation flew in a helicopter over the damaged landscape, she was on the phone with her assistants and secretaries in order to stay up to date on developments concerning aid and rescue efforts. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Brasília released emergency federal funds to help those affected by the disaster and hundreds of soldiers were flown in to disburse food, water, medical supplies and other necessities and aid in search-and-rescue efforts.
In Argentina, a heat wave engulfed much of the central and northern parts of the country with temperatures soaring to between 40°C and 50°C (104°F and 113°F).
In the north-central province of Santiago del Estero, five people died as a result of heat-related issues. All of the victims were found either in their homes or on the street, passed out from heat stroke symptoms and showing no vital signs. Another victim was found in the province of Salta in the northwest of Argentina, a man who died of heat-related injuries when his car apparently broke down on the side of the road.
Both provinces saw a sharp uptick of people checking into doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals for symptoms related to the unbearable heat.
The heat wave also affected people in the east of the country, and the capital of Buenos Aires was not spared. The metropolis of over 13 million residents experienced power outages and rolling blackouts across the city as Mayor Mauricio Macri upgraded the ‘red alert’ for the city because of the heat to a ‘state of emergency.’
“The people feel abandoned and unprotected,” said Macri, “and they do not know if they will have no power for a few hours or a few days.” “We have formed an emergency city committee to find solutions to this problem and we strongly encourage the national government to attend our meetings along with the power companies so we can do something about this, and to prevent it in the future.”
In the city of Rosario, the largest city in the Santa Fe province and Argentina’s third-largest city, bathers took to the Paraná river to cool off from the heat. They were attacked by a shoal of palometas, a type of piranha, and over 70 swimmers were injured. A local ichthyology (study of fish) expert from the National Institute of Limnology (study of inland waters) said that the hot weather contributed to the gathering of the palometas, and that one was likely injured and bleeding, attracting the others who then began biting the swimmers.
A similar attack happened near Posadas, another city on the banks of the Paraná some 900 kilometers (560 miles) upriver, on the border with Paraguay. A large group of people, like in Rosario, jumped in to escape the heat and fifteen victims received treatments for cuts and bites related to the attack.