By Vasco Cotovio and Tara John, CNN
The death toll from floods and heavy rain, which has blighted the Brazilian state of Bahia since November, rose to 20 after flooding intensified over the weekend, causing two dams to burst and the displacement of an estimated 62,800 people, state officials say.
At least 358 people have been injured in the flooding, the Bahia state government said in a Monday statement. It has affected more than 470,000 people living in 116 towns.
“The infrastructure damage is enormous,” Bahia state Gov. Rui Costa said Tuesday, as images of the affected area showed people salvaging belongings from their flood-hit homes.
Costa warned of a “perfect storm” caused by the catastrophic effects of the flooding amid a two-pronged pandemic.
“We have the natural disaster and we have two pandemics happening at the same time: The coronavirus pandemic and the flu virus — which have affected the entire country,” he said.
Critical Covid-19 medicines and vaccines has been destroyed in flood-stricken cities and municipalities, such as Jucuruçu and Itororó, Costa said.
“In some places, 100% of all medicines and vaccines were lost because some of the municipal health secretariats and their medicine depots were left completely underwater,” he said.
The Duas Ilhas dam ruptured in the city of Jussiape on Sunday, filling up already swollen rivers and flooding surrounding areas. A day after, a dam in the city of Itambé — also in Bahia — gave way.
Jussiape Mayor Eder Aguiar blamed climate change for the devastation. “We know rain can be seen as a blessing from God but that due to the ecological imbalance that we, human beings, have caused, there can be too much of it, causing serious damage,” Aguiar said.
Costa said Sunday that the scale of flooding was like nothing he had seen in Bahia’s recent history “given the amount of cities and houses involved. It’s truly terrifying, there are so many houses and streets that are completely under water.”
On Monday, Costa traveled to Itororó, where the first two floors of the mayor’s office complex were “completely flooded, and their health center had lost all its vaccines,” he said.
The biggest priority is to now restock urgently-needed vaccines, medicines “and supplies necessary to provide medical care,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Costa added that the full extent of the damage is “enormous” but could not be calculated fully until the water recedes.
“We still don’t have that data,” Costa said. “We still don’t know how many roads we need to recover, how many bridges we need to rebuild.”
The governor said that multiple places in Bahia resembled the aftermath of an air strike — or war.
“The feeling, from the images we have of several places, is that of being the victims of a large air strike, as if we’re in the middle of a war and several things had been destroyed,” he said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently on vacation in the southern state of Santa Catarina, said in a tweet Tuesday that he has approved 200 million Reais (around $35 million) in credit for “the reconstruction of road infrastructure damaged by rain in the states of Bahia (most affected), Amazonas, Minas Gerais, Pará and São Paulo.”
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CNN’s Flora Charner and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.