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Cyclone leaves 21 dead in southern Brazil as officials warn more flooding may be on way

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Torrential rain and winds caused by an extratropical cyclone have left at least 21 people dead in southern Brazil, officials said on Tuesday, warning more flooding may be coming.

The latest in a string of weather disasters to hit Brazil, it is the deadliest ever in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Governor Eduardo Leite told a news conference.

“We were deeply saddened to get the news that as the water recedes … 15 more bodies were found in the town of Mucum, bringing the death toll to 21,” he said.

A rescuer looks for residents inside flooded houses after a cyclone hit southern towns, in Venancio Aires, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

More than 3,700 people were also forced from their homes by the storms, which started on Monday, dumping hail and more than 30cm (nearly 12 inches) of rain on the state in less than 24 hours and triggering floods and landslides, officials said.

In Mucum, a small town of 5,000 people, hundreds had to be rescued from their rooftops as the Taquari river flooded more than 85 per cent of the city, according to local news site GZH.

“There are still people missing. The death toll might climb higher,” Mayor Mateus Trojan told Radio Gaucha.

“The town of Mucum as we knew it no longer exists.”

Rescuers were using helicopters to reach isolated areas cut off by flooding.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sent a message of solidarity with those affected, saying the federal government is “ready to help.”

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The victims included a man killed by an electrical shock in the town of Passo Fundo and a couple whose car was swept away by a river as they tried to cross a bridge in the town of Ibiraiaras.

The storms hit more than 60 cities in all, affecting more than 50,000 people, authorities said.

The neighbouring state of Santa Catarina also recorded one death, according to news site G1.

With more rain forecast from Thursday, authorities warn more flooding is possible.

It is the latest in a string of deadly weather events to hit Brazil, which experts say are likely being made worse by climate change.

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Unchecked urbanisation and irregular housing built on hillsides are also making such disasters deadlier, officials say.

An estimated 9.5 million of Brazil’s 203 million people live in areas at high risk of flooding or landslides.

In June, another cyclone left 13 dead in Rio Grande do Sul and forced thousands of people from their homes.

And in February, 65 people died in landslides caused by record flooding in the southeastern resort town of Sao Sebastiao, on the coast of Sao Paulo state.

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