Brazil floods: Rescuers hunt for survivors

LONDON. January 14. KAZINFORM Rescuers are trying to find survivors in cut-off areas of south-eastern Brazil hit by deadly floods that have left at least 480 people dead.

Relatives have been joining in the search but often only find the bodies of loved ones.

Heavy rain has brought massive mudslides down on several towns, where thousands have been made homeless.

Police say the number of dead is likely to rise further, but the disaster is already the worst the country has seen.

The death toll has surpassed that of mudslides in Caraguatatuba in Sao Paulo state in 1967 in which up to 430 people died.

President Dilma Rousseff visited and expressed solidarity with communities.

'It's all gone'

Darkness has fallen in the mountainous Serrana region, north of Rio de Janeiro, bringing a pause in the work of more than 800 rescue workers.

Many have spent Thursday scrabbling with their bare hands through debris.

In the Campo Grande area of Teresopolis, which was earlier cut off, rescuers found family members pulling bodies from the mud.

One Campo Grande resident, Carols Eurico, told the Associated Press: "I have friends still lost in all of this mud. It's all gone. It's all over now. We're putting ourselves in the hands of God."

Another resident of Teresopolis told AFP: "One woman tried to save her children, but her two-month-old baby was carried away by a torrent like a doll."

The Brazilian armed forces have brought in a field hospital and hundreds of people have taken refuge in the gymnasium in Teresopolis.

But the number of injured was threatening to overwhelm the medical services.

Jorge Mario, the mayor of the Teresopolis, 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."

In one dramatic filmed rescue, 53-year-old Ilair Pereira de Souza was pulled by rope from a destroyed house surrounded by raging water, Kazinform cites BBC News.

"I thought I was going to die," she said.

Ms Pereira de Souza had jumped with her dog Beethoven but was forced to let him go to survive.

"If I had tried to save him, I would have died. The poor thing. He stayed for a moment looking me in the eyes, and then he was swept away."

President Rousseff visited the area on Thursday and vowed a shipment of seven tonnes of medicines.

"It's very overwhelming. The scenes are very shocking," she said.

On Wednesday she had signed a decree authorising 780m reais ($480m; £296m) in emergency funding for the affected areas.

Ms Rousseff described the destruction as an act of God but she also expressed anger at illegal construction.

"We saw areas in which mountains untouched by men dissolved. But we also saw areas in which illegal occupation caused damage to the health and lives of people."

Saying that building houses in risky areas was "the rule rather than the exception", in Brazil she added: "When there are no housing policies in place, where will a person with an income of up to two minimum wages live? He will live where he is not allowed to."

'Humble people'

Ms Rousseff said the state would care for the victims but said stopping future tragedies would be a priority.

The towns' populations have quadrupled over the last 30 years, according to the local governor

"We are here to guarantee that this moment of reconstruction will also be a moment of prevention."

Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergio Cabral blamed local governments for allowing poor building and illegal occupations.

"Unfortunately, what we saw in Petropolis, Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo, since the 1980s, was a problem similar to what happened in the city of Rio - letting the poorer people occupy risk areas."

He said some rich mansions had been damaged but most of the victims were "humble people".

Mr Cabral ended the press conference by asking people in risk areas to leave their houses and seek public shelter or in other families' homes.

"The weather forecast is not reassuring, and new mudslides could occur," he said.

About 200 people are so far known to died in Nova Friburgo, some 175 in Teresopolis and dozens more in Petropolis, media report.

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