By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Thousands of families in the Southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul were forced to spend Christmas Day away from their homes due to the heavy rains that flooded the region. At least 38 municipalities reported rising waters in what officials are calling the worst floods in recent years in the region.
Officials also report that thousands of families have been without electricity since Christmas Eve, with many cities registering blackouts.
The Quaraí River which divides Brazil from Uruguay, rose to 15.28 meters, forcing authorities to halt traffic at the Concordia International Bridge for over twenty-four hours. Officials say one person died in the state due to the floods.
Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, who spent Christmas Day with family in Rio Grande do Sul, is scheduled to fly over the affected area on Saturday, December 26th.
Farmers are reporting that most of their rice plantations are under water and losses in the millions of reais. The heavy rains which also fell over parts of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay forced more than 150,000 people to flee their homes in the neighboring countries. Authorities are reporting at least six deaths due to the rains.
The inclement weather that has hit the region since December 18th is caused by the phenomenon known as El Nino. According to meteorologists this year’s El Nino is one of the strongest recorded in history. The weather forecast for the region for the next few days has improved, but officials continue to advise people not to return to their homes until the waters recede.