'War-like' scenes in Brazil's flood-hit states

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Heavy rain has brought devastating floods to two states in north-east Brazil. More than 40 lives have been lost, 600 people remain missing and thousands have lost their homes and livelihoods. The BBC's Paulo Cabral reports.

It looks as if the town of Branquinha, in north-east Brazil, has been hit by heavy bombardment.

In fact the devastation has been caused by the waters of the Mundau river, which burst its banks and washed away everything in its path.

Even the smell is a bit war-like.

It is a putrid whiff that people hope is coming only from the sewage and the rubbish - even if they know that, at least some of it, is likely to be from bodies buried under the rubble.

"It was the end of the world. I had never seen anything like this in my life. Everywhere we looked it was just water and big waves," says Ana Paula Silva, who saw her father being dragged to his death by the muddy waters.

"I went uphill with my mother and my brothers but my father decided to stay in the valley to watch the house. When the water rose he couldn't run away so he went up on the roof of the bus station. But after a few minutes it collapsed," said Ms Silva.

But this family have at least had the comfort of burying the body of their loved one, found on the river bank three days after his disappearance.

For the relatives of the hundreds that are still unaccounted for, hopes are fading and closure is still denied.

Moving the city?

The clean up work has already started and, while heavy machinery moves the debris, hundreds of people roam around the rubble in the hope of finding anything left behind by the water.

"My clothes, my furniture, everything is now under the rubble but what I am really looking for are my documents. All the rest I can work hard and buy again but without my documents I can't do anything," said Antonio Jose da Silva, while digging with a shovel the big pile of mud that covered his house.

But if this is the worst flood in Branquinha's memory, it is not the first one.

Farmer Eleno Tavares has seen his possessions destroyed for the second time.

Image caption,
Railway tracks, schools and hospitals have been swept away

"In the 2000 flood, my house was right by the river. It was invaded by the water and I lost everything," Mr Tavares explains.

After that, he decided to leave the house and build another one, but just a few metres further away from the water.

This year, when he saw the river rising, he decided to accept the offer of a neighbour to put his belongings in her house.

"She said that her house was further from the river and so my things would be safe, but when the flood came, that house was among the first to collapse. So I lost all my things for the second time and the next day my house collapsed as well," he says.

Now the people of Branquinha are thinking of moving the city altogether to higher grounds.

There are some hills around the city that could be suitable, but most of the land either belongs to the big sugar cane farmers from the region or has already been pinpointed by the government for agrarian reform.

But the mayor of Branquinha, Renata Moraes, says she likes the idea and will talk to the federal government about it - only after they deal with the current emergency.

"What we need most now? Organisation and coordination," she says. "The town is a complete mess now and the first thing we have to do is to put all of this in order and then we can think of the future."

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