Latin America & Caribbean

Death toll mounts from flooding in Rio de Janeiro state

More than 250 people have died in towns near Rio de Janeiro as heavy rains continue to cause flooding and mudslides in south-eastern Brazil.

Downpours triggered landslides in the mountain town of Teresopolis, where 130 were reported to have died.

At least three firefighters were among 107 people killed in mudslides in Nova Friburgo.

Brazil has seen severe flooding this year, leaving thousands homeless.

The death toll has been steadily climbing as rescuers reached remote villages in the mountains, some of which have been destroyed.

Civil defence officials in Nova Friburgo originally said seven people had died there, before increasing the figure several times.

Bare hands

A state of emergency has been declared in Teresopolis, 100km (62 miles) north of Rio, where more than 1,000 people have been left homeless. Another 20 people died in the nearby town of Petropolis.

With many people still missing it is feared the death toll could rise even further and there is concern about water-borne diseases.

More than 800 rescue workers are conducting searches in the area. The Brazilian navy has offered helicopters to fly in equipment and personnel.

Witnesses said rescue teams were using heavy machinery, shovels and bare hands to dig through tonnes of mud and debris.

President Dilma Rousseff is due to fly over the area on Thursday to inspect the damage.

Earlier this week, torrential rains in neighbouring Sao Paulo state left 13 people dead and brought traffic chaos to Brazil's biggest city.

In Teresopolis, a river burst its banks, submerging buildings, while the rainfall set off several mudslides.

"It's a huge catastrophe, a major disaster," Teresopolis Mayor Jorge Mario Sedlacek told Globo television.

TV footage showed homes destroyed and cars submerged.

"I saw six bodies on my street," 53-year-old resident Antonio Venancio told Reuters news agency.

He said his house was inundated with mud but still standing.

"We just don't know what to do in the face of something so horrible," he added

Civil defence officials in Teresopolis said that in 24 hours it rained 144mm - more than the usual amount for the whole of January.

'Sea of mud'

Power and telephone lines are down in the three towns, and there is no drinking water, officials say.

Major roads have been cut by floods and landslides, adding traffic chaos to the challenges facing state officials.

One resident described the situation just outside Petropolis as a "sea of mud".

"I've lived here 25 years and never seen anything like it," Manoel Candido da Rocha Sobrinho told Folha website.

"I live in a higher spot but when I look down I just see a sea of mud. Most people saved themselves by scrambling up trees or fleeing to higher ground."

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