Hundreds die in Brazil floods

More than 300 people have died after heavy rains triggered mudslides which swamped Brazilian mountain towns.

More than 300 people have died after heavy rains triggered mudslides which swamped Brazilian mountain towns.

Rescuers were searching for dozens more who were missing.

In the hardest-hit town of Teresopolis, where the civil defence agency said at least 146 people died, hundreds of family members crowded around the town’s morgue waiting to identify bodies.

More corpses were laid out on a street by the police station, covered by blankets. Rains hit the town overnight, though no new mudslides were reported.

Rescuers used heavy machinery, shovels and bare hands in attempts to find survivors.

At least 50 were still missing and one neighbourhood in Teresopolis had not been reached yet by authorities.

In a neighbouring town, firefighters rescued a 25-year-old man who held his six-month-old son for 15 hours until they were both pulled out alive. The man’s wife and mother-in-law were feared dead.

Heavy rains and mudslides kill hundreds of people across Brazil each year, especially during the South American summer. The worst hit are the poor, whose rickety homes are often built on steep slopes with weak or no foundations.

In Teresopolis, 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, deluges filled creeks and the overflows swept over already water-logged mountainsides. Brick and wooden shacks built on hillsides stripped of trees were washed away in surging earth and water.

The mountains saw 10 inches of rain fall in less than 24 hours. More rain, possibly heavy at times, is forecast through the weekend.

Floodwaters continued to gush down the mountains for hours after rainstorms ended on Wednesday. Survivors waded through waist-high water, carrying what belongings they could, trying to reach higher ground.

Many tried desperately to find relatives, though the phone service was out in the region.

“There are so many disappeared – and so many that will probably never be found,” said Angela Marina de Carvalho Silva, a resident of Teresopolis who feared she may have lost 15 relatives, including five nieces and nephews.

“There was nothing we could do. It was hell,” she said.

In the neighbouring mountain town of Nova Friburgo, at least 107 people died, according to the Rio state civil defence department. Among the dead were four firefighters who were helping in the rescue effort. Three other firefighters were listed as missing after their fire engine was hit by a mudslide.

President Dilma Rousseff signed a measure on Wednesday sending $461m to towns in Rio and Sao Paulo states damaged during the recent rains. The money will go to repairing infrastructure and preventing future disasters.

The president planned to fly over the most severely damaged areas today.

The mayor of Teresopolis, Jorge Mario Sedlacek, decreed a state of emergency, calling the calamity “the worst to hit the town.”

In neighbouring Petropolis, 34 people were confirmed dead by the Rio state civil defence department.

The death toll in the region was expected to rise as firefighters reached remote valleys and steep mountainsides where neighbourhoods were destroyed, Teresopolis’s mayor said. About 1,000 people there were left homeless and took shelter in a local school.

Heavy rainfall also caused havoc earlier in Minas Gerais state north of Rio, where 16 people died in the past month and dozens of communities are in a state of emergency.

In Sao Paulo, flooding has paralysed main thoroughfares since Sunday and 21 people died in collapsed homes, mudslides and flooding throughout the state.

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