Brazil death toll rises, more survivors unlikely

AFP
AFP Global Edition

Apr 09, 2010 22:58 EDT

Exhausted Brazilian rescuers face another night of grim searching through a wall of mud as hopes fade of finding survivors, with almost 400 people now feared dead after some of the worst rains in decades.

Civil Defense officials said late Friday that at least 219 had been killed across Rio de Janeiro state since Monday when some of the heaviest rains in half a century unleashed floods and mudslides.

The heavy rain also forced some 50,000 people to leave their homes, officials said, either because their homes were damaged or because they were ordered to leave due to fear of fresh landslides.

Rescue teams have pulled out scores of bodies since part of a hillside collapsed on Wednesday, sliding onto a shantytown built on a landfill in Niteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, burying an estimated 200 people.

The floods of the past days tore through the metropolitan area's precarious hillside slums, or favelas. Niteroi was hardest hit, with at least 132 dead, according to the civil defense authorities.

Some 150 people worked through the night searching for survivors in Niteroi's Morro do Bumba shantytown, with the help of eight excavators, as a stream of trucks came and went loaded with debris.

"There is a possibility" of finding survivors, said the Niteroi Civil Defense chief, Marival Gomes. "It's not easy but there is hope."

Firefighters working at the site since Wednesday however appear to be working on the assumption that there are no survivors.

They said there was little chance of finding new survivors after part of the hillside fell away and swallowed everything in its path, including 50 houses, a day-care center and a pizzeria.

A handful of people were rescued from the mud in the few hours after the landslide, but after that only bodies have appeared, according to reporters on the scene.

State Governor Sergio Cabral briefly visited Morro do Bumba late Friday.

"We are very worried about diseases that could spread from the decomposing bodies buried under tons of dirt and garbage," Cabral said.

Cabral said he asked the Brazilian military to help in rescue efforts. Aid will include two army field hospitals to help survivors, he said.

The federal government released 113 million dollars in aid for municipalities in Rio state affected by the floods and mudslides, Cabral said.

The number of people swept away remains unknown, but firefighters have estimated, based on witness testimonies, that some 200 people were buried under the rubble.

Cristiane Oliveira, 27, saved her daughters from the mudslide but lost her mother, uncles and cousins and still waited to see their bodies emerge from the piles of earth.

"I look and I think, 'Everyone is under there.' It's really sad," Oliveira told AFP.

In Rio de Janeiro city, where 67 have been killed, Mayor Eduardo Paes signed a decree authorizing police to force people out of homes located in dangerous areas as intermittent rain continued to fall.

Source: AFP Global Edition