Brazil: Search on for 600 missing in floods; Death toll rises to 44

By Bradley Brooks, AP
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Brazil: Search on for 600 missing in floods

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian rescuers searched Wednesday for 600 people declared missing after heavy rains caused torrential flooding in two states. The death toll rose to 44 after three bodies were found overnight.

The Civil Defense department of Alagoas state said rains had subsided, giving soldiers and other rescuers the chance to reach some of the isolated towns by boat and helicopter. Heavy machinery was used to remove destroyed homes, while search dogs scoured areas where survivors or more bodies might be found.

A fire department spokeswoman in Maceio, the capital of Alagoas, said the search for the missing began at dawn, but there was no report of survivors found. She spoke on condition of anonymity, per department rules.

On Tuesday, Civil Defense officials said they believed most of the missing were safe — just unable to notify family members and others of their status because there was no electricity and phones were knocked out.

Massive storms dumped a month’s worth of water on parts of Alagoas and neighboring Pernambuco state last week. Some small towns were nearly destroyed by the flooding and local officials said it looked like a tsunami had hit.

In the city of Uniao dos Palmares, where 500 people are reported missing, shop owners dug mud out of the few buildings that survived.

“We’ve been through other floods, but we’ve never had anything even close to this,” Maria Rodrigues, who owns a butcher shop, told the O Jornal newspaper as she surveyed a thick layer of mud and debris in her store.

At least 120,000 people in Alagoas and Pernambuco were driven from their homes by the rains, but many found shelter in schools, churches or with family members.

The federal government announced it was sending $56 million in food, medicine and other aid, and Air Force planes had already delivered about 10 tons of supplies to some of the worst-hit areas, officials said.

But residents said little aid had yet reached Uniao dos Palmares.

“We’re going hungry,” housewife Deise de Andrade told O Jornal. “Yesterday we had to pick food out of the mud to give it to my sons. We’re eating mud.”

The Civil Defense said in a statement that 29 deaths had been reported so far in Alagoas, while 15 were reported dead in Pernambuco.

In May 2009, flooding in the same areas killed at least 44 people and displaced 380,000.

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