Rio de Janeiro: Torrential waters flattened a small town as floods raged through two states in northeastern Brazil and the death toll was expected to surpass 44 as rescuers searched on Wednesday for hundreds of people reported missing.
Mayor Ana Lopes said the entire town of Branquinha, population 12,000, will have to be rebuilt in a different location. Television footage showed a train station washed away, its tracks ripped from the earth. Cars lay overturned and strewn along a riverbank. Dazed people wandered about streets littered with couches, chairs and mountains of mud.
A humble Roman Catholic Church with a rose-colored facade was one of the few buildings to survive — but it was surrounded by the rubble of nearby homes.
Storms last week dumped a month`s worth of rain on parts of neighbouring Alagoas and Pernambuco states, near the point where Brazil juts farthest east into the Atlantic.
The Civil Defence Department said in a statement that 29 deaths had been reported so far in Alagoas, while 15 were reported dead in Pernambuco.
At least 120,000 people were driven from their homes by the rains, but many found shelter in schools, churches or with family members.
In May 2009, flooding in the same areas killed at least 44 people and displaced 380,000.
Lopes said on Wednesday that she would ask the federal government for help in obtaining land farther away from the Mundau river, which left its banks and sent powerful torrents of water through Branquinha. She also held out hopes for finding most of the 600 people reported missing, mostly from her town and another nearby.
"We hope that the people who are missing are found as quickly as possible, but it is still possible to believe that more people have been killed," she was quoted as saying by G1, the news portal for Globo television.
Rains lifted early Wednesday, allowing rescuers to more easily reach the affected areas, but showers returned by afternoon. Officials said the areas prone to flooding had been evacuated to avoid more deaths.
The Civil Defence department of Alagoas said 200 soldiers were using planes, boats, helicopters and trucks to reach the hardest-hit areas. Tons of food, medical supplies and blankets arrived in the state capital and were being distributed. Heavy machinery was used to remove destroyed homes, while search dogs scoured areas where survivors or more bodies might be found.