Report from Brazil
THE awesome power of water is well known. When its power is harnessed it is a valuable servant of man. But there are times when its power is unleashed in sudden outbursts of devastating force.
Early this year Brazil experienced firsthand the destructive power of water. Unprecedented floods struck panic in an area the size of France, Belgium, Holland and Portugal combined. “One of the worst natural disasters ever to occur in Brazil,” one magazine said. The whole state of Minas Gerais, much of Espírito Santo, the north of Rio de Janeiro State, and eventually South Bahia were badly hit. The flooding of the two main highways to the northeast of Brazil cut the country in two.
An eyewitness describes what happened as he endeavored to travel from Brazil’s northeast to São Paulo at the height of the calamity.
In the Disaster Zone
“Our bus arrived in Linhares, Espírito Santo State. The picture before us was pathetic. Some 40 days of rain had caused havoc. The Doce River had flooded the area and swept away everything in its path.
“Along the riverbanks the waters rose so fast that there was no time for anyone to run to safety. Cattle farms simply vanished.
“Would we be able to proceed to São Paulo? The military police stopped all through traffic. The main highway had suffered great damage. Scores of bridges had been broken off by the waters like matchsticks. Our attempt to cross the river by canoe, in the hope of picking up a bus on the other side of the river, was in vain.
“One day after another passed. We men slept in the bus, while the women and children were kindly put up by local people during the night. Many were without money. One woman on our bus did not eat for two days so that she could buy food for her seven-year-old daughter. Another one chewed on green avocados, because her money had run out. Of course, when we realized their plight, we decided among us to collect money and to buy food for all, as well as milk for the children.
“There were seven buses stuck in Linhares. Food was running low in the city, so we were told to move on. But the passengers were afraid. Finally, a shopkeeper came to our help and let us use his warehouse, about two kilometers (over a mile) outside the city. Here we received rations supplied by the government.
“The waiting and uncertainty, the smells of burst sewage pipes and dead bodies created tension. Some fighting broke out, but no shooting on our bus. Others were not so fortunate. After five days the waters stopped rising and we were allowed to move on. I thanked God when we arrived in São Paulo. It seemed like the end of a nightmare.”
The Sad Results
By the middle of February, the death toll was calculated at over 300, but many termed this official figure as far below reality. In fact, in the Doce River valley at least 330 are said to have been swept into a wet grave as the rising river unleashed its fury. Others were buried when landslides caved in their homes. Out of a population of 14,000,000 in the area, more than 8,000,000 persons were directly affected.
While loss of life cannot be counted in terms of money, destruction of property is calculated in the millions of dollars. Official overall estimates of casualties and destruction are incomplete, but according to the Coordination Office of Civil Defense, in Minas Gerais State alone the following figures are confirmed: 250 dead, 172,400 lost their homes, 16,000 houses and 712 bridges were destroyed, 90 roads were cut, and 294 towns were affected. Total damage in the state of Minas Gerais alone amounted to 2.8 billion cruzeiros ($113,017,154, U.S.).
Although some looting was reported and certain individuals exploited their fellowmen, there were many cases of humanitarianism. Government forces worked untiringly in rescue operations and in supplying food and medicine.
Christian elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Vitória got in touch with their brothers in the areas hit by the flood. Locally they collected food, clothing and blankets and took these right away as a relief ministration, imitating first-century Christians.—Acts 11:29, 30; 12:25.
As soon as the congregations in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro heard of the calamity, they began to send donations in the form of money, clothing and bed linen for their ill-faring Christian brothers. Wherever possible, telephone calls were made to all congregations affected in some way. And a representative of the Watch Tower Society’s office in São Paulo flew to the afflicted areas with relief funds.
Food and clothing were shared with friends and neighbors. The Witnesses in Governador Valadares were especially commended by the local military and civil authorities for the spirit they showed in a time of unequaled calamity. One Kingdom Hall was used to put up neighbors whose houses were flooded. Another congregation used its Kingdom Hall to cooperate with the authorities in the preparing and distributing of food. By February 13, they had provided some 30,000 meals, using their equipment along with raw materials supplied by the government. The Witnesses’ experience in mass feeding was greatly appreciated.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian government has taken further steps and furnished 1.5 billion cruzeiros ($67,415,730, U.S.) for emergency measures. But despite all help extended, it may take years to erase the marks of the flood’s fury.
Is There an Explanation?
The weather situation was most unusual, with floods in Brazil’s center and east while there was drought in the south. No one could remember anything before that might compare with it. But why did it happen?
A noteworthy report published in “O Estado de S. Paulo” says that scientists recognize “that man liberates too much carbon dioxide—through the burning of coal and oil and the destruction of forests. Due to this, the heat produced by sunlight penetrating the atmosphere cannot escape, causing the heating up of the lower atmosphere and producing more rain in some regions, bad droughts in others and melting of the polar ice.”
Whatever the causes may be, it is evident that, to avoid such disaster, man needs help from a source that can control forces greater than he is.
[Map on page 12]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
AREAS AFFECTED BY THE FLOODS