In Brazil, floating footbridges to overcome flooding: News

In Brazil, floating footbridges to overcome flooding: News
In Brazil, floating footbridges to overcome flooding: News

With his calf bandaged, Paulo Roberto Heineck limps forward on a floating footbridge. This temporary bridge was installed by the army to end the isolation of rural communities in southern Brazil hit by devastating floods.

The 54-year-old mason who recently had surgery has no choice: he must go to his doctor. “Everything is more difficult now, but we must move forward,” sighs this father of three children.

Using these footbridges is the only way to connect the neighboring towns of Travesseiro and Marques de Souza, after the destruction of bridges swept away by the flood of the Forqueta, one of the rivers which cross the Taquari valley.

This agricultural region was one of the most affected by the unprecedented floods which devastated the state of Rio Grande do Sul, leaving nearly 170 dead and several dozen missing.

At least six bridges were destroyed in this area located northwest of the regional capital Porto Alegre, preventing many residents from traveling by car from one municipality to another, to work, go to school or home. doctor.

To avoid being totally cut off from the world, they must use floating footbridges like those used by the military in times of war to cross rivers after the bombing of bridges.

But these footbridges are as essential as they are precarious: with each new bad weather, they risk being swept away by the current, forcing the authorities to install new ones.

– One behind the other –

“The population had to be able to return to their habits as quickly as possible,” explains Colonel Rafael Farias, 46 years old. Therefore, the army has temporarily installed around five footbridges in the Taquari Valley.

These narrow metal bridges rest on floating structures that resemble dugout canoes arranged a few meters apart across the width of the river.

To use them, you must walk in single file and wearing a life jacket – distributed by soldiers posted on each bank – is obligatory.

Juliani Steffer, a 36-year-old clothing seller, arrives out of breath on the other bank, after carrying a bag full of goods.

“People have lost a lot of clothes. Since they can’t come to my store by car, I go to their house,” she says.

Due to a lack of lighting, the footbridge must close at dusk, forcing residents to return early to avoid the risk of being stuck on the other bank.

And the crossing is sometimes simply impossible: the footbridge used by Paulo Roberto Heineck and Juliani Steffer to connect Travesseiro to Marques de Souza had to be removed twice, the last on Tuesday, due to a strong current.

– Mobilization –

A similar problem affected two other important footbridges, installed side by side to connect the localities of Arroio do Meio and Lajeado, the largest town in the Taquari Valley, with its 90,000 inhabitants.

Thousands of motorists had gotten into the habit of parking on either side to access the neighboring town on foot.

But these footbridges were damaged on May 23 by violent rainfall. New footbridges began to be installed on Wednesday, the army told AFP.

In the meantime, residents had to cross the river on boats provided by the military and volunteers, carrying only 25 people per trip.

The floating footbridges “are fundamental, because Arroio do Meio does not live without Lajeado and vice versa”, judges Marta Rosani da Silva, a 41-year-old street sweeper who is waiting to make the crossing with her child.

She hopes the car bridges will be rebuilt soon. “Before, it took us an hour to get to work, now it takes three hours.”

The federal government has promised to finance the reconstruction of the bridges, but residents are mobilizing to obtain additional funds from the private sector.

For the Travesseiro Bridge, the estimated cost is 10 million reais (around 1.8 million euros). “The authorities promised us four million, we are still missing six,” calculates Cristina Lammers, 44, an entrepreneur in the food industry.

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