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Brazil’s Amazonas state’s inferno: flood of the century, wave of violence, and Covid-19

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The largest flood in 119 years in the state affects communities controlled by drug trafficking, where donations are prevented from reaching. A wave of violence led to vaccination being suspended.

This is the largest flood in Amazonas in 119 years of records, amid a pandemic and the harbinger of a new surge in Covid-19 infections (Photo internet reproduction)

Leyna Paula da Costa Rego, 35, has been deprived of a bathroom since the Negro River flooded her backyard. The two-room house where she lives with her daughters, ages 15, 13 and 11, is still safe. Diagnosed with Covid-19 by an RT-PCR test, she uses her mother’s bathroom, who lives in the same house, split to accommodate the two families, in the Colônia Antônio Aleixo neighborhood, eastern Manaus.

“It rained this week and I was afraid it would reach here. My neighbor’s bathroom flooded and then they left. They are staying with relatives. The Civil Defense came in about a month ago. They checked my bathroom’s condition, marked the house, enrolled us for aid, but nothing has come so far,” says Leyna, who used to work for a recycling company on a daily basis, but has been unemployed since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The R$300 (US$59) flood aid promised by the State government is planned to cover 100,000 people affected by the floods that now afflict 450,000. The City government also provides rental assistance for people who have left their homes, in the amount of R$300, and the Operação Cheia 2021 aid, in the amount of R$200. All are paid for two months, the period in which the river begins to recede.

This is the largest flood in Amazonas in 119 years of records, amid a pandemic and the harbinger of a new surge in Covid-19 infections, months after a crisis led to the death of patients due to an oxygen shortage. On Wednesday, governor Wilson Lima (PSC) announced that he intends to expedite immunization in the state and vaccinate the entire population over 40 years of age by the end of the week.

A good part of Manaus’ flooded communities are controlled by drug traffickers and, even to get help with food donations, someone from the community must be present. The reach of organized crime in the state became clear in the early hours of Sunday last week, June 6, when Manaus and six other cities in the interior of Amazonas -Iranduba, Careiro Castanho, Manacapuru, Carauari, Caapiranga and Rio Preto da Eva- suffered arson attacks attributed to the Comando Vermelho (Red Command), which persisted until Monday morning, even after police reinforcement in the streets.

Approximately 30 vehicles were burned, among them 15 buses, cars in the parking lot of the 13th Community Interative Company, a State Police vehicle, a Civil Police vehicle, as well as vans, minibuses, tractors, and a SAMU ambulance. Seven public roads were set on fire as well as 8 public buildings – including a renovated square inaugurated by the City Hall the week before.

Bank branches such as Caixa Econômica Federal, Banco do Brasil, Santander, Bradesco and Basa were also set on fire. Metal industry unions as well as the metalworkers’ trade association recommended the suspension of the early morning shift in plants at the start of the week.

On its Twitter page, the U.S. Embassy in Brazil advised caution for U.S. citizens in the city. “They should avoid non-essential travel within Manaus until security conditions improve, particularly travel by public transportation. Organized criminal groups within the city have violently targeted police stations, city buses, and other public areas.” A comment in the post reflects the feeling of those who live in the city: “Manaus is not for amateurs.”

Since then, the city has experienced a kind of involuntary lockdown: traffic has slowed down and public services have been suspended. The attacks also halted bar crowds, which are traditional on soccer match days, and interrupted Covid-19 vaccination for one day. The return of semi-presential classes, with teachers vaccinated with only one dose, was also suspended and resumed only on Wednesday, June 9.

“The North is ultimately a route, a territory to be undertaken by crime and by the confrontational policy process. It is a strategic region for both the Brazilian state and crime,” explains social scientist Israel Pinheiro, PhD in Society and Culture in the Amazon. In recent years, the region has become an important cocaine corridor on the international drug trafficking route; the drug is brought from the borders with Colombia and Peru through the Amazon rivers.

According to the Public Security Secretariat, the attacks started in retaliation for the death of one of the Comando Vermelho leaders, Erick Batista Costa, 30 years old, aka Dadinho, in a shootout with police officers during an operation not yet detailed by the body. Governor Wilson Lima said in a live stream that the attacks are “the result of the success in fighting drug trafficking in the state,” which seized 19 tons of narcotics in 2020 and 11 tons from January to May this year, and 832 weapons in 2021, up to April.

According to the Amazonas Public Safety Secretary, Luismar Bonates in a press conference, the attacks were ordered from inside the prison. So far 42 arrests have been made after the attacks, according to the security agency, 19 of which in the capital. A total of 144 National Force police officers were authorized by the federal government to operate in Amazonas. But part of the team, which was on its way to Manaus through the BR-319, suffered an accident on Thursday morning, June 10. The vehicle collapsed into a flooded area at kilometer 16, in the municipality of Careiro Castanho. There were no injuries.


The flood situation in the state is widespread. This is how Luna Gripp, geosciences researcher from the Geological Service of Brazil (CPRM), responsible for monitoring the flood, classifies the conditions of the hydrographic basins in Amazonas. This will be the 7th extreme event recorded in the past 10 years (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021) in Amazonas. In the past, the phenomenon typically occurred every 20 years.

“The year 2021 marks the largest flood on hydrological data records for several regions of the Negro and Solimões river basin. In Manaus, the record was broken on June 1 (29.98 meters). This occurs mainly because of the large volume of rainfall since the start of the year, above expectations,” she explains.

The previous record occurred in 2012, when the Negro River reached 29.97 meters. Currently, the Negro has stabilized at 30 meters since June 5. This is the trend for the coming days.

“The frequency of extremes in the Amazon has been notably increasing in recent decades. In general, most studies attribute the variations we are observing to a natural component, which is being exacerbated by climate changes of anthropic origin, associated with human action,” says researcher Javier Tomasella of the National Center for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alerts (CEMADEN), a reference in studies on the subject.

Source: El Pais

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