More than 350 dead in Brazil floods

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A man stands in the doorway of his damaged home after a landslide in Teresopolis, Rio de Janeiro state (AP)

At least 355 people have been killed after walls of earth and water swept away homes in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

More than 50 people were missing in three Rio state towns after slides hit the region early on Wednesday. A further 34 people have already died in floods and slides since Christmas in the south-east of the country.

Rio state’s civil defence department reported on its website that 159 people were killed in Teresopolis, 160 in nearby Nova Friburgo and 36 in neighbouring Petropolis. Morgues in the cities were full and bodies covered in blankets were laid out in streets.

Officials said the area hit by slides had seen 10 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. More rain, possibly heavy at times, is forecast for over the weekend.

President Dilma Rousseff flew by helicopter over the region. The nation’s Health Ministry said it was sending seven tons of medication to the area, enough to treat 45,000 people for a month.

Survivors across the region were seen wading through waist-high water, carrying what belongings they could, trying to reach higher ground. Many tried desperately to find relatives, though phone services were devastated and many people were still missing hours after the rain stopped.

Jorge Mario Sedlacek, the mayor of Teresopolis, decreed a state of emergency, calling the disaster “the worst to hit the town.” About 800 search-and-rescue workers from the state’s civil defence department and firefighters were digging for survivors, but hopes were dimming.

Deadly flooding and slides have hit neighbouring states in recent days as well.

Heavy rainfall caused havoc in Minas Gerais state north of Rio, where 16 people died in the past month and dozens of communities are in a state of emergency.

In Sao Paulo, flooding paralysed main thoroughfares in the city and 21 people died in collapsed homes, mudslides and flooding throughout the state.

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