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Hundreds dead in Brazil floods
Rescuers dig through shattered homes for survivors after floods and landslides rip through a mountainous region.
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2011 15:22 GMT
Many residents of the three main towns in Serrana region have been made homeless by the floods [EPA]

More than 350 people have been killed after floods and landslides devastated towns and villages in a mountainous area near Rio de Janeiro.

Rescue workers were digging desperately on Thursday in an attempt to reach people buried after the equivalent of a month's rain fell on the Serrana region in less 24 hours, toppling houses and buckling roads.

"It's like an earthquake struck some areas," Jorge Mario, the mayor of Teresopolis, where at least 168 people were reported to have died, said.

"There are three or four neighbourhoods that were totally destroyed in rural areas. There are hardly any houses standing there and all the roads and bridges are destroyed."

Television images showed emergency workers going through the ruins of collapsed homes in a search for survivors, but often finding only bodies.  

Survivors in shock

Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo reporting from central Teresopolis said the main police station there has been turned into a morgue and officials also had to open a vacant building nearby to place the bodies that had been showing up.

"The rescue workers are having a hard time, these areas are very difficult to reach, and there's no cell phone communication, no electricity, no water here," he said.

"People are still in shock. They are just walking around in a daze and waiting for any news they can get. In the main city, they are dealing with it as best as they can, the situation has just gone from bad to worse."

Survivors of the mudslides recounted the horrors of watching homes swept away by walls of earth and water and of frantic efforts to dig with bare hands and reach trapped neighbours.

"We were like zombies, covered in mud, in the dark, digging and digging," Geisa Carvalho, a local resident, told The Associated Press news agency.

Geisa and her mother Vania Ramos were awoken by a loud rumble as tons of earth slid down a sheer granite rock face onto their neighbourhood.

"I don't even have the words to describe what I've seen," Ramos said. "A lot of our friends are dead or missing. There are people we may never find."

Petropolis and Nova Friburgo, the two other main towns in the region were also hit as the downpour sent water and mud surging through their communities.

Brazilian television reported that more than 160 people had been killed in Nova Friburgo alone. 

Supplies running short

Residents said they had no food, water or medication, and many made the long walk to the main area of Teresopolis to get help.

The effect on other remote communities is still to be established as destroyed roads have made it impossible for rescue operations to reach them.

The government said it was sending 210 troops from the National Public Security Force, including officials to help identify bodies.

Two navy helicopters were assisting rescue operations and the navy was also sending a mobile field hospital to the area.

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's president, signed a measure on Wednesday sending $461m to towns in Rio and Sao Paulo states that were damaged during the rains.

On Tuesday, rains sweeping through Sao Paulo state killed 13 people and snarled transport in the country's financial capital.

The money will go towards repairing infrastructure and preventing future disasters.

Heavy rains, common during Brazil's summer wet season, were intensified this week by a cold front which doubled the usual precipitation.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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