Brazil floods, mudslides leave hundreds dead - UPDATED

Television images showed many houses buried in mud as desperate residents and rescue workers searched for survivors.

Brazil floods, mudslides leave hundreds dead - UPDATED

Rescue workers struggled on Thursday to reach areas cut off by floods and landslides that have killed at least 356 people in one of Brazil's worst natural disasters in decades.

The death toll from the devastated mountainous region near the city of Rio de Janeiro was expected to rise as rescuers reached the more remote areas. Heavy rains earlier in the week killed 13 people in Sao Paulo state, bringing the total number of deaths in southern Brazil to at least 369.

Hillsides and riverbanks in the scenic Serrana region north of Rio collapsed after the equivalent of a month's rain fell in 24 hours, destroying houses and killing entire families as they slept early on Wednesday. Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper said it was the worst natural disaster to hit Brazil in four decades.

Television footage showed raging flood waters and rivers of mud that laid waste to the town of Teresopolis, where at least 152 people died, and nearby Nova Friburgo, where the death toll was 168, according to local officials.

"The city is finished," Nova Friburgo resident Carlos Damasio was quoted as saying on the online edition of local newspaper O Globo.

At least 36 people also died in Petropolis, a picturesque town nestled in the mountains that served as the summer residence for Brazil's royal family in the 19th century.

Many stranded residents were forced to fend for themselves as rescue operations were hampered by destroyed roads and treacherous terrain. More rain is forecast for the coming days, raising the risk of further mudslides.

"Many roads are impassable," said Gilberto Junior, a spokesman for Teresopolis city authorities. "We have information that there are some victims in these (unreachable) areas."

Television images showed one woman holding a dog in the ruins of her house as powerful floodwaters tore at the remaining walls. She grabbed a rope thrown by residents from a nearby rooftop and was eventually pulled to safety, but had to drop the dog into the waters to save herself.

The disaster is an early challenge for new President Dilma Rousseff, who was due to fly over the region on Thursday. She has already made 780 million reais ($460 million) in emergency funds available for the rescue and reconstruction efforts.

Two Navy helicopters are assisting rescue operations and the Navy is also sending a mobile field hospital to the area.

Landslides and floods are common in much of Brazil, exposing poor urban planning and a lack of preventive action by authorities.

More than 60 people died in mudslides in the coastal resort of Angra dos Reis in January 2010, and about 180 people died when landslides devastated slum communities in Rio last April.


Reuters

Last Mod: 13 Ocak 2011, 16:50
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