Storm damage
Paulo Franken  /  AP
A man picks up furniture inside the remains of what used to be a snack bar in Torres, Brazil, Sunday, after a powerful storm lashed the nation's southern coast.
updated 3/29/2004 9:53:58 PM ET 2004-03-30T02:53:58

A day after a massive tropical storm battered the southern coast, Brazilians tended to victims and struggled to understand exactly what hit them.

Civil defense officials said Monday the storm — dubbed Catarina by meteorologists — left at least three people dead, 38 injured and more than 2,000 people homeless.

Rescuers plucked two fishermen from the sea and found the body of another off Brazil’s southern coast Monday.

Brazilian meteorologists, meanwhile, disputed assertions by U.S. weather experts that the storm was a hurricane.

U.S. officials said the storm, which struck land some 520 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro packing sustained winds of more than 74 mph, appeared to be the first hurricane on record in the South Atlantic.

Officials say hurricane; locals disagree
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami estimated the storm was a full-fledged, Category I hurricane with central winds of 75-80 mph. A private U.S. forecasting company, AccuWeather, said it also considered the storm a hurricane. Some gusts reportedly hit 94 mph.

But Brazilians, who have long prided themselves as having a country free of hurricanes, were not convinced.

“The system that hit Santa Catarina this weekend was not a hurricane,” Brazil’s National Space Research Institute said in a statement Monday, arguing that it didn’t behave like a hurricane.

“This system was totally different from anything we’ve ever seen here,” said Laura Rodrigues, a meteorologist at the Santa Catarina state weather bureau. “It may be that it was neither a hurricane nor a subtropical cyclone, but rather something completely new.”

Worst hit was Santa Catarina state, where 14 cities and towns remained without drinking water and 11 had no electricity Monday.

Santa Catarina Civil defense official Marcio Luis Alves said at least 1,990 people lost their homes and 9,590 were forced to flee. More than 30,000 houses across the state were damaged, and 280 were destroyed.

Another look at the weather
The storm also damaged 1,373 public buildings and private businesses, Alves said. Fifty were destroyed, including a hospital.

“I’m not a meteorologist, but we are going to have to rethink our concepts about the kind of weather we’re getting in this region and take some more precautions for the future,” Alves said.

He added that meteorologists provided ample warning about what was coming, averting an even worse disaster.

On Monday, some 5,200 people were working across the state to restore the situation to normal.

In neighboring Rio Grande do Sul state, the situation was less serious with only about 200 people forced to flee their homes and about 1,000 houses damaged by the storm.

“Here the winds only reached about 50-56 mph,” said civil defense Capt. Gustavo Souza. Still, Souza said the storm had left the local population seriously shaken.

“We are receiving calls from people who are worried by rumors another storm is forming or that the same storm is coming back. That’s not true, the storm has dissipated,” Souza said.

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