Brazilians flee rising waters

Refugees dodge snakes, scorpions

The Associated PressMay 8, 2009 

— The dirt road that runs in front of her house is a river. Her fields of rice and manioc lie ruined underwater. And with water seeping into her mud-brick, thatched-roof home, Maria do Remedio Santos knows it's time to join her neighbors.

Like 218,000 others across a swath of northern Brazil three times the size of Alaska, the neighbors have fled the worst rainfall and flooding in decades, braving newly formed rivers teeming with anacondas, alligators and legless reptiles known as "worm lizards" whose bite is excruciating.

They have made their way into shelters, some of which are already packed with people, pets and livestock, with little food or medical supplies. But Santos said Thursday that there is no other choice for the nine people -- relatives and neighbors -- camped out in her shack.

"For now we're all sleeping in the living room, but we're going to have to leave," she said. "There's no other way out."

Already, 36 people have been killed in the flooding, sparked by unusually heavy rains that have been falling for two months on 10 of Brazil's 26 states, an area stretching from the normally wet rainforest to coastal states known for lengthy droughts. Meteorologists blame an Atlantic Ocean weather system that typically moves on by April.

They forecast weeks more of the same.

Downriver from Santos' home in the town of Sao Miguel de Rosario, adults waded through waist-deep, muddy water covering the main road -- though they kept children in boats to protect them from rattlesnakes and anacondas swimming nearby.

Also driven from their burrows and swimming through the water were rodent-eating reptiles known as a "worm lizards" that look like giant white earthworms.

"So far no one has been bitten here. The main thing you tell the kids is to stay out of the water," Palmeiro da Costa said from a canoe.

Alligators swam through the city of Santarem, civil defense official Walkiria Coelho said. Scorpions congregated on the same high ground as people escaping the rising water. No injuries were reported.

But authorities worried about thousands of people isolated for days with little food or clean water, rushing aid to towns and cities. In some places, aid was stuck because there were no local workers to distribute it.

Rivers were still rising as much as a foot a day in Maranhao. The surging torrents wrecked bridges and made it too dangerous for relief workers to take boats onto some waterways. Globo TV said planes were unable to land in remote areas of Piaui state and roads were impassable.

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