Death toll tops 145 in Brazil flooding, landslides | world | Hindustan Times
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Death toll tops 145 in Brazil flooding, landslides

Rescuers searched for flood and landslide survivors in southeastern Brazil on Wednesday as the death toll neared the 150 mark following the heaviest downpours in almost half a century.

world Updated: Apr 08, 2010 08:10 IST

Rescuers searched for flood and landslide survivors in southeastern Brazil on Wednesday as the death toll neared the 150 mark following the heaviest downpours in almost half a century.

Civil Defense officials late Wednesday said that 145 people were confirmed dead -- not counting up to 60 people who may have been buried when a landslide destroyed some 45 homes in Niteroi, a city across the bay from the state capital and part of the greater Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area.

There were people inside at least 30 of the stricken homes in Niteroi, Globo news reported, citing sources at the mayor's office and firefighters. It said two bodies had already been removed from the landslide site.

Images broadcast by a Globo television helicopter showed firefighters struggling to rescue survivors from piles of mud-covered rubble and twisted metal.

Globo said rescuers eventually asked the helicopter to leave so they could listen for sounds from buried survivors.

The toll was likely to rise further as dozens of people were reportedly still missing following the rains, which displaced more than 1,400 people and destroyed scores of homes.

Flooding over the past days has been so intense that authorities urged area residents to remain indoors.

Heavy rain, which began on Monday, fell intermittently on Wednesday amid sunny spells, providing hope that the worst was over.

Emergency officials said most fatalities were in hillside slums around the city of Rio de Janeiro, where torrents of water triggered devastating mudslides and scenes of chaos.

Trash, stones and rubble dotted the muddy hills of Niteroi on Wednesday, alongside precarious homes.

"People have nowhere to go, they're all doomed," Vinicius Gomes, the cousin of a landslide victim, told AFP.

Various officials and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticized decades of administrative malfeasance which allowed shoddy home construction in high-risk zones.

"Our aim now is to save lives. Of course we'll have to remove houses from risk areas in Niteroi," local mayor Jorge Silveira told journalists.

Most of the casualties were trapped in landslides in the slums around Rio, a city of some 16 million people that will host the World Cup football tournament in 2014 and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Many sports grounds and gymnasia were flooded, including the famous Maracana stadium.

The situation "is better than it was yesterday," Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes told a news conference, speaking before the Niteroi landslide.