Brazil floods kill at least 350 in wake of steep cut to disaster budget

The Brazil floods that have killed at least 350 people this week come just after news reports revealed the federal government cut its budget for disaster prevention and preparation measures by almost a fifth.

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    Cars sit in debris in a flooded street in Teresopolis, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Wed. Jan. 12. Torrential summer rains tore through Rio de Janeiro state's mountains, killing at least 350.
    AP Photo/Roberto Ferreira, Agencia O Dia
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At least 350 people have died and thousands more are injured or homeless after torrential rains hit parts of Brazil this week.

The worst hit area was in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where rivers of mud swept through towns and washed away houses, shops, and vehicles.

Cars and bodies floated through the streets on Wednesday and thousands of residents besieged authorities looking for news, or the bodies, of their loved ones.

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“We’re literally in a war situation,” one rescue worker was quoted as saying. “The biggest problem is that we have no communication. Our main mission today is to rescue as many people as possible, preferably alive.”

Help on the way

State and federal government governments sent rescue workers to the area along with tons of food, medicine, and blankets.

President Dilma Rousseff, who took office just 12 days ago, was due to visit the stricken area on Thursday and she earmarked 700 million reais ($418 million) in emergency aid.

The assistance, however, comes just after news reports revealed the federal government cut its budget for disaster prevention and preparation measures by almost a fifth. The news, coming just a few weeks after members of Congress awarded themselves a 61 percent pay increase, is causing recriminations given that these kind of disasters are preventable and predictable.

Recent flooding tragedies

Less than a year ago, just a few miles from where this week’s devastation occurred, 160 people died when houses built on top a hillside garbage dump gave way. Another 250 were killed by mudslides in other parts of the state.

In São Paulo, the two rivers that ring the city routinely burst their banks causing traffic chaos and some neighborhoods spent several weeks under water last year.

Government officials vowed they would review the current procedures that ensure much more money is spent on cleaning up disasters rather than stopping them from happening, with leading Civil Defense official Humberto Vianna telling the government news agency: “[Our] logic needs to be inverted. We are going to prioritize prevention.”

It was a promise that made perfect sense. But it rings hollow this week.

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