Brazil flood death touches 640
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Last Updated: Monday, January 17, 2011, 21:20
Petropolis: The death toll from devastating floods and landslides in Brazil rose on Monday to 640, as the military stepped up efforts to reach isolated communities near Rio.

The disaster -- the worst of its type in Brazil's history -- was now mobilising more than 1,500 emergency personnel, including from the army, air force, and police and fire services.

Fears of disease spreading have added urgency to the search for decomposing bodies, and officials have told the local population to not use run-off water for drinking.

Rio de Janeiro state today began seven days of mourning for the victims, adding to a three-day national mourning period declared by President Dilma Rousseff.

The toll looked certain to rise further as roads were cleared to finally allow bulldozers to reach mud-slimed debris in remote hamlets six days after sliding earth swallowed them up.

Some 120 people are missing, presumed dead, according to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, citing state and local officials.

Military and police helicopters were being used to access cut-off areas, after days of rain that had kept them grounded because of limited visibility.

Mayors from the hardest-hit towns of Nova Friburgo, Teresopolis and Petropolis were to meet to discuss how their region, heavily dependent on tourism, can survive, the GloboNews channel reported.

The mudslides that struck the Serrana mountain region just north of Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday last week were caused by rains dumping the equivalent of a month's precipitation in just a few hours.

Destruction was exacerbated by houses illegally built on deforested hillsides -- a situation Rousseff and state officials have blamed on decades of weak municipal oversight in the area.

The disaster was the first big challenge in Rousseff's mandate, who took over from Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on January 1.



First Published: Monday, January 17, 2011, 21:20

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