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Brazil mudslide toll rises
Toll reaches 224 after after floods and landslides wipe out slum near Rio de Janeiro.
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2010 21:46 GMT
The landslide in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday buried everything in its way, including 50 houses [Reuters]
 

The death toll from floods and mudslides near Brazil's Rio de Janeiro has reached 224, with authorities fearing that it could reach as high as 400 people.

Four bodies were pulled out of the rubble at dawn on Saturday in the Niteroi slum of Morro do Bumba, where up to 200 people are believed to be buried.

Officials said the heavy rain had forced about 50,000 people to leave their homes, either because their homes were damaged or because they were ordered to leave due to fear of fresh landslides.

About 150 people worked through the night searching for survivors in Morro do Bumba, as a stream of lorries came and went loaded with debris.

"There is a possibility" of finding survivors, Marival Gomes, Niteroi's civil defence chief, said.

"It's not easy but there is hope."

Low hopes

Firefighters working at the site , however, said there was little chance of finding new survivors after part of the hillside fell away and swallowed everything in its path on Wednesday.

The slum had been built on top of what had been a rubbish landfill site, making the foundations very weak.

The mudslide demolished more than 50 houses as well as churches and stores in its path, leaving a rubble-strewn gash of earth on the hillside.

Marlene Pineiro, a survivor, said she and her family heard a loud noise as the earth began moving and managed to jump out of a window before it collapsed.

Al Jazeera's Craig Mauro reports on the race to find survivors from the deadly mudslides

"We ran and everything starting coming down ... the kitchen, my brothers' room, the living room," she said.

"But in the other room it stopped, so when that happened we opened the window ... we jumped into the woods and ran away."

About 200 mudslides have hit the Rio area since Monday, triggered by the worst rains in 40 years.

Most of the victims lived in hillside slums, known as favelas, which are usually flimsy structures built on steep hillsides that are susceptible to landslides.

More than a million people live in favelas across the Rio area.

Experts blamed government "complacency" for allowing the country's most destitute to build housing in areas at risk of natural disasters, such as on the sides of steep hills.

But city officials have rebuffed questions about why so many slums were allowed to be built on unstable land, saying the priority is finding survivors and helping to shelter those made homeless.

"This isn't the time to question why these constructions were allowed, it is the time for solidarity," Sergio Cabral, Rio's governor, said as he inspected the disaster zone.

Brazil's federal government has sent troops to help rescue and recovery efforts and on Thursday announced a $113m emergency fund to help Rio state cope with the disaster.

Source:
Agencies
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