Brazen gun battle in Brazil bank heist leaves cash scattered on road

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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Bank robbers in southern Brazil blasted explosives and fired high-caliber weapons at police late on Monday, in an audacious heist that injured two people and left reams of cash in the streets to be pocketed by locals.

The robbery began just before midnight on Monday in the southern city of Criciúma and lasted nearly two hours, according to a statement from military police in Santa Catarina state. Of the two people who were injured, one was a police officer.

Terrifying images shared on social media showed armed men firing automatic weapons on the city streets, taking hostages and then making their getaway in a fleet of cars. In their wake, the robbers left cash strewn across the streets. Residents soon spread out to snatch up the notes, television footage showed.

"So far, four people have been arrested who collected part of the paper bills that were thrown to the ground due to the explosion," the police said.

Authorities have located 810,000 reais ($152,660), police added. Local media reported that there were 30 robbers involved in the heist.

Brazil has a long history of bank heists, and major lenders have struggled with a wave of violent robberies in recent years as criminals have mastered the use of explosives to access cash.

($1 = 5.3059 reais)

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Bernadette Baum)