“We are living through the worst disaster in Bahia’s history,” the state governor said.
At least 20 people have died in floods in northeastern Brazil, local officials said Monday, as the region braced for more rain.
Home to about 15 million people, weeks of intermittent flooding have intensified in Bahia state in the past two days after two dams collapsed, sending residents scrambling.
“Unfortunately, we are living through the worst disaster that has ever occurred in Bahia’s history,” the state’s governor, Rui Costa, said Monday on Twitter, adding that Bahia’s 72 municipalities are in a state of emergency.
The governor said rescue teams are trying to move supplies and provide medical care to victims, but damage to bridges and highways has made those efforts more difficult.
The two dams that collapsed over the weekend were in the towns of Giusiabe and Itambe.
Rescue workers are patrolling small boats around the town of Itapuna, pulling residents out of their homes, including some who escaped through second-floor windows.
Manfredo Santana, a spokesman for the Bahia Fire Corps, told Reuters news agency on Monday that emergency workers had rescued 200 people in three towns. The severe currents of the swollen Cachoeira River complicated rescue efforts.
“It’s hard to maneuver even with jet skis,” he said. “The rescue teams had to back off at certain moments.”
On Monday afternoon, the Bahia Civil Defense Agency said 20 people died as a result of the floods in 11 separate municipalities.
The state government said the previous day that the floods had displaced more than 16,000 people.
In televised comments, Costa attributed the chaotic scenes in part to “mistakes made over the years”.
O Globo newspaper, citing a state fire official, reported that authorities are monitoring 10 additional dams for any signs that they may collapse.
The revision of public infrastructure and urban planning comes only a few years after mine dam collapse In the neighboring state of Minas Gerais, about 270 people were killed.
A government task force of military firefighters and police was set up in the severely affected areas of Bahia to help respond to the disaster.
In the state capital of Salvador, meteorologists said precipitation in December was six times higher than average.
Heavy rain coincides with no nina, a climate phenomenon that typically occurs every three to five years and leads to cooler temperatures in the Pacific Ocean than usual.