By Diego Vara
LAJEADO, Brazil (Reuters) – For several hours, the floodwaters rose until they swept away Miguel Rutigliano Bieleski’s home, his wife and his two children. Bieleski said he only survived by clinging on to the branch of a tree.
Bieleski, 35, is one of many Brazilians in the south of the country struggling to rebuild their lives after being battered by a tropical cyclone this week. Around 7,700 people are estimated to have lost their homes, according to government officials.
At least 41 people died from the storm, with 46 still missing, according to authorities from Rio Grande do Sul state, which has declared a public emergency. Weather forecasters predict more rains before the deluge dissipates by Sunday.
Bieleski lives in the town of Lajeado, which was badly hit by floodwaters from the engorged Taquari river.
He blamed emergency services for the deaths of his wife and children, saying they had urged him to stay in his home to await help that never arrived.
“They did nothing,” he said, adding he is now facing the consequences.
Rio Grande do Sul emergency services did not respond to a request for comment.
Paulo Ricardo Siqueira Santos, who is also from Lajeado, now sleeps in his car after his home was filled with mud and water. Before escaping, the 65-year-old retiree managed to save his gardening tools, his only means of subsistence apart from donations of food and water. He said he was worried thieves would ransack whatever belongings remained, and he now lives in his car.
“I’ve lived here for 60 years, and I’ve never seen a tragedy (like this),” he said. “The water reached the second floor of my house.”
(Reporting by Diego Vara and Pilar Olivares; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Aurora Ellis)