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Brazil Death Toll From Floods, Mudslides Rises To 64

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Rescue crews today intensified the search for victims at a plush Brazilian beach resort ravaged by mudslides and flooding that have killed at least 64 people in three states.

Firefighters waded through mountains of mud and sifted through the remains of a lodge and homes that were destroyed in the early hours of January 1 when a hillside collapsed in the luxury beach resort of Angra dos Reis, removing 35 bodies, authorities said.

Angra dos Reis, the nearby island of Ilha Grande and other towns on the southern coast of Rio de Janeiro state are a magnet for local and foreign tourists over the New Year's holiday.

Heavy rain also left several cities without power in the state of Sao Paulo, where six tourists died in a mudslide in the town of Cunha.

At least three people died because of mudslides in Juiz de Fora, a city in Minas Gerais state.

In Rio de Janeiro state, where Brazil has most of its oil reserves and has long been the nation's flagship tourist destination, the death toll climbed to 55, authorities said.

"The weather is improving, which helps us with the search, but we won't rest as long as we suspect that there are more bodies underneath the remains," said Colonel Jerri Andrade of Angra's firefighters corps and who is overseeing the search.

Television footage showed the Sankay lodge and surrounding homes in Angra buried under a mountain of reddish-brown mud. Access to the area, known as Praia do Bananal, remained difficult as roads and the beach were covered with mud and trees from the collapsed hillside.

The lodge, which can accommodate up to 50 people, was reportedly full at the time of the disaster. Victims included the 18-year-old daughter of the lodge's owners, according to the "O Estado de S. Paulo" newspaper.

So far, there have been no reports of any foreign victims.

Earlier in the day, rainfall subsided and rescue teams, aided by helicopters and navy vessels, managed to reach the area to remove more bodies, Andrade said.

Despite the break in the weather, heavy rains are forecast for the coming days, which could make rescue work harder and trigger more mudslides, authorities said. One state that could be hit by a lengthy downpour is Parana in Brazil's south, "O Globo" newspaper reported today.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pledged federal assistance to Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral, who flew over the region early today to assess the damage.

Intense rainfall triggered mudslides along some points of the Rio-Santos highway, with traffic halted near the historic city of Paraty.

In some parts of Rio state, it rained more in the last four days than it normally does in a month.