Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil floods: Army deployed in Rio de Janeiro state

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Media captionMore than 600 people have been killed in the worst natural disaster in at least 40 years

Brazilian soldiers have arrived in Teresopolis, one of the towns worst affected by deadly mudslides in the state of Rio de Janeiro, to assist with the rescue efforts.

Officials say at least 600 people are known to have died in the floods.

In the town of Nova Friburgo, officials are burying unidentified bodies because of a lack of mortuary space.

State governor Sergio Cabral has declared seven days of mourning for the victims of the disaster.

Major Alexandre Aragon, who commands the troops in Teresopolis, said he had been given a threefold mission: to support the rescue efforts, to help recover and identify bodies, and to guard against looting.

The military will also try to clear some of the blocked roads which have forced rescuers to reach some of the worst-hit areas on foot.

About 100 soldiers have also been deployed to the Cuiaba valley, which has been cut off since the heaviest downpours in 44 years tore through the mountainous area near Rio de Janeiro.

Rescue workers fear the number of dead will continue to rise as they reach areas which have been without communication since the rains started at the beginning of the week.

They say that with phone lines and the internet down, it is hard to tell what awaits them in the more remote mountain communities.

Civil defence forces in Nova Friburgo praised the efforts of a local group of amateur radio enthusiasts who had helped them co-ordinate the rescue efforts in the first hours after the landslides.

"Without their help, we couldn't have done anything in those first two days," Lt Col Roberto Robadey said of the group, which took their radio equipment to key points across the town to provide a communication link between rescue groups.

The Brazilian Air Force said it was installing a communication centre in Itaipava, so people could make phone calls and access data in their attempts to track down missing relatives.

Continuing danger

Heavy rains resumed in Nova Friburgo on Saturday afternoon, further hampering the efforts of emergency workers.

Some of the town's neighbourhoods still do not have electricity. Town officials have asked for candles to be donated so residents are not left in total darkness.

Forecasters have warned that the steady rainfall in the area will continue into next week.

The BBC's Paulo Cabral, who is in the area, says the soil on the hillsides is still extremely wet and unstable, so even a small quantity of water could be enough to cause new disasters.

The death toll has now surpassed the devastating 1967 mudslides in Caraguatatuba, Sao Paulo state, in which about 430 people died.

Politicians including President Dilma Rousseff have highlighted the practice of people illegally building homes on the sides of mountains.

She has vowed to stop such a disaster happening again, and has earmarked 780m reais ($480m; £296m) in emergency funding for the affected areas.

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