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Cyclone or Hurricane? Brazil Cannot Decide What Hit Her

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.
by: 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.

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