Lula pledges to work toward full recovery of Brazil storm-hit coastal areas
Sao Paulo, Feb 20 (EFE).- Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday pledged to ensure that coastal areas of Sao Paulo state fully recover from the havoc wrought by weekend downpours, which triggered flooding and landslides that left at least 40 dead and 40 missing.
He also vowed that those who lost their homes would be provided with new places to live in safe areas.
“I guarantee my ministers will be willing to talk about forming a partnership to ensure a true recovery from the havoc that the rain caused here in Sao Paulo,” Lula said in a speech in Sao Sebastiao, a coastal city home to nearly 100,000 people that suffered the worst damage and nearly all of the fatalities to date.
The president cut short his brief vacation in the northeastern state of Bahia to get a first-hand look from the air of storm-battered areas of Sao Paulo’s coast, a popular destination that had welcomed dozens of tourists in recent days due to the Carnival celebrations, which a number of cities were forced to cancel.
The torrential rains produced a trail of destruction in a half-dozen Sao Paulo municipalities, not only leaving dozens dead and missing but also forcing nearly 2,500 people to abandon their homes, according to the latest official bulletin.
The evacuees are being housed in schools and inside the buildings of civil society organizations. Among the dozens of injured, six are in serious condition, Sao Paulo’s Health Secretariat said.
Sao Paulo’s government said the deadly storms caused “one of the worst tragedies in the history” of that region, where rainfall totals rose to as high as 682 millimeters (27 inches) in less than 24 hours, the most ever recorded in Brazil.
Rescue teams on Monday were continuing to search for potential survivors, an operation in which more than 600 police, firefighters and soldiers are participating, according to officials.
In his remarks to the media, the center-left president said federal resources have been sent to local authorities to help ensure the recovery of San Sebastiao, where 39 of the 40 deaths registered thus far occurred.
“You’re once again going to have a place to care for your families,” Lula said at the ceremony, directly addressing some of the people left homeless by the storms.
The head of state added that officials on both sides of the political spectrum are committed to working together.
“It shows that it’s possible to perform our duties in a democracy, even though we belong to different parties. The common good is much more important that any differences we may have,” the president said in a nod to Sao Paulo Gov. Tarcisio de Freitas, an ally of rightist ex-President Jair Bolsonaro, Lula’s most bitter rival.
Freitas has declared a state of emergency in six cities: Sao Sebastiao, Caraguatatuba, Guaruja, Bertioga, Ilhabela and Ubatuba.
Amid that climate of cordiality, Lula urged municipal authorities to find a safe place for rebuilding houses that were buried under mud or severely damaged by rain-triggered landslides.
“Occasionally, nature surprises us, but a lot of time we also defy it,” he said, adding that “a safe place must be found to start rebuilding the homes of the people of Sao Sebastiao.”
Lula also stressed the need for officials to work together to repair a badly damaged road in that region that connects the cities of Santos and Rio de Janeiro.
Heavy rains are common at this time of year in Brazil’s southeast region, but they have turned more intense and destructive in recent years.
Similar storm-triggered disasters that forced thousands to evacuate their homes and left hundreds dead occurred in 2022 in the states of Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
In the city of Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro state, an intense storm left around 240 dead in February of last year. EFE