Go Back

Brazzil - Tragedy - March 2004

Cyclone or Hurricane? Brazil Cannot Decide What Hit Her

While American weather experts analyzing satellites pictures
called a Brazilian storm a hurricane even before it hit shore, their
Brazilian counterparts preferred to treat it as an cyclone. With this
downplaying of the facts the population in the affected areas
didn’t prepare for what really was in store for them.

Francesco Neves

Brazilian and American meteorologists still have to agree on what hit the southern coast of Brazil Saturday night killing at least two people, damaging as many as 40,000 homes, and leaving hundreds of families homeless. According to US officials, the storm named Catarina (its main target was the state of Santa Catarina) packed winds exceeding 75 miles an hour, which would characterize it as a category one hurricane, the first such storm on record to reach the south Atlantic region.

Catarina, which hit the coasts of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina states, killed a man and a child. The child was killed when a beach house collapsed in Rio Grande do Sul. The man died when his car was struck by a tree. There was also news that a dozen fishermen were missing off the coast of Santa Catarina. On Monday, the lack of communication with many isolated areas of those two states didn’t allow for a full account of the situation.

While American weather experts analyzing satellites pictures called the Brazilian phenomenon a hurricane even before it hit shore, their Brazilian counterparts preferred to treat it as an “extratropical cyclone.” Brazil’s Center for Weather Forecasting and Climatic Studies, a branch of the Inpe (National Institute of Space Research), on Saturday, was still classifying the storm as a cyclone, that would have winds with speeds between 37 and 44 miles an hour. They would be proved wrong since winds reached 75 miles an hour and up.

Even after the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration divulged satellite photos late Saturday afternoon showing the real power of the storm, Maria Assunção Dias, Inpe’s meteorologist, went on Globo TV’s Jornal Nacional, the leading prime-time news show in Brazil to defend the Brazilian position:

“The Americans, who are used to follow tropical hurricanes in the North Atlantic region, take a peek at the satellite image and think this is a hurricane. If they paid a little more attention to the details, they would see that we have a different structure here. In a hurricane, winds in the lower levels turn in one direction, but spin in the opposite direction in the upper levels. Here, they turn equally from the surface to the upper levels.”

On Sunday, the official position had changed a little. Laura Rodrigues, from Santa Catarina’s Meteorology Center admitted that the weather phenomenon had shown “characteristics different from those we are used to” and announced that her and her colleagues were trying to decide if Brazil was hit by a cyclone or a hurricane. “The episode has characteristics of a hurricane,” she said, “but it is still too early to decide with certainty.”

Finally on Monday afternoon, Brazilian weather experts admitted that the winds that hit the Brazilian coast were above hurricane strength. Winds were as high as 94 miles per hour.

Echoing the observations of many other fellow Brazilian citizens at the Internet forum of Rio’s daily O Globo, Otávio da Silva wrote: “The authorities have to stop thinking that Brazil is free from natural catastrophes, that those only happen in the United States and other parts of the world and that we don’t need to be prepared for the consequences. What happened in the early hours of Sunday was a category one hurricane and the Americans were warning us about this, 24 hours ahead of time. The population could have been prepared through an alert given through radio and TV. Unfortunately we saw that the mind of many Brazilians cannot understand that much. That’s regrettable.”

Rosana Torres da Silva was even more emphatic: “The population should have been given special protection by the authorities, who apparently underestimated the massive power of the cyclone. Who ended paying once again for the authorities’ irresponsibility were the common, poor, uninformed citizens. Many of them will have to restart their lives from zero. It seems that in Brazil we need to have a tragedy first so we can take the necessary steps, when the opposite should occur: to prevent so we don’t have to be fixing things after the fact. When are you going to learn that?”

Residents of the areas battered by the hurricane were terrified. They had never seen a hurricane before. Brazilians authorities say hundreds of homes were destroyed. And 11 fishermen are missing off the coast after two boats sank in the storm.

According to the authorities from both states, 40 cities were hit by the storm. Monday, rescue teams continued to search for 12 fishermen who were caught in high seas by the strong winds. They were able to rescue Luciano da Silva on Sunday, but his five colleagues from the Vale 2 boat are still missing. The seven crew members from the Antônio Venâncio vessel also couldn’t be found.

The tree that killed a man after reaching his car has also injured two other people who were inside the vehicle. There is news that at least other 30 people suffered injuries, one of which is in serious condition in a hospital in Criciúma, Santa Catarina. In Araranguá, also in Santa Catarina, some 200 houses were unroofed and at least 60 trees fell on the BR-101 roadway, a main artery connecting the Brazilian South to the Southeast.

The mayor of São João do Sul, Antonio Oliveira Cardoso, declared state of public calamity in his city of 8000, one of the worst hit by the cyclone/hurricane. According to Cardoso, most of the residents lost their houses. The winds also destroyed schools and the town’s community center.

In Rio Grande do Sul, 300 families of Torres were homeless after the passage of the storm, which left the town without electric power or telephone service. Several municipalities in the area have no electricity and some of them have declared state of emergency in hopes of getting federal aid.

Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

Anything to say about Brazil or Brazilians? Brazzil
wishes to publish your material. See what to do.