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Search for survivors after mudslide kills 20 in Brazil

Last Updated: Saturday, January 2, 2010 - 20:58

Rio De Janeiro: Brazilian rescue workers dug for survivors on Saturday after a mudslide buried a luxury hotel filled with New Year`s revellers on an island near Rio, killing at least 20 and leaving many others missing.

Another landslide in the nearby city of Angra dos Reis south of Rio left at least 11 people dead, part of a series of mudslides brought on by incessant rains that have killed at least 52 people across the state of Rio de Janeiro since Wednesday and left dozens missing.

Authorities said the Hotel Sankay on Ilha Grande, a resort island southwest of Rio, was full to capacity with about 40 guests, including children, ringing in the New Year at the idyllic seaside getaway nestled at the bottom of a jungle-covered hillside which gave way, burying part of the hotel and three houses on the island.

"It is a vision of horror," Rio`s deputy governor Luiz Fernando Pezao told CBN radio, describing "a mountain of rocks and trees covering various homes."

Nearby houses had been rented out to vacationers for the holiday period.

A fire chief said the death toll at the hotel site could rise to 40, and rescue teams were speeding their search Saturday amid warnings by authorities of the possibility of new landslides.

"The whole area is in severe danger (of new landslides) due to the vegetation," Colonel Pedro Machado, commander of the Fire Department, told Globo News channel.

About 100 rescue workers and firefighters, aided by rescue dogs, wrestled to remove tons of mud and vegetation in the hope of finding victims alive on Ilha Grande, but "the chances of finding survivors are very slender," Machado said.

"We cannot use heavy equipment because of the risk of setting off new landslides," he said.

Authorities said most of the bodies recovered earlier were found on land, but at least three had been pulled from the sea.

The Hotel Sankay, which opened in 1994, catered to Brazilian and foreign tourists looking for a hard-to-reach beachside hideaway.

The island, whose Bananal beach can only be reached by water, is the largest in a bay studded with pristine tropical islands.

It was not immediately known if there were foreigners among the dead.

In the center of the city of Angra dos Reis, a seaside town on the mainland overlooking Ilha Grande Bay about 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Rio, another landslide buried several houses, killing at least 11 and leaving six missing, according to the radio CBN.

Although the rains stopped on Friday, authorities put Rio de Janeiro on alert because of fears of potentially devastating mudslides in its densely populated hillside favelas, or shanty towns.

About 20 people were reported killed on Thursday because of subsidence and house collapses, mainly in and around the city.

Similar mudslides caused by torrential rains hit the state of Rio de Janeiro a year ago, forcing more than 3,000 people to leave their homes.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, January 2, 2010 - 20:58

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