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Hundreds Dead in Brazil Floods

Floods and landslides have devastated towns in a mountainous area near Rio de Janeiro, killing more than 330 people, according to local media.

Survivors of mudslides in mountain towns north of Rio recounted, on Thursday, the horrors of watching homes swept away by walls of earth and water and of frantic efforts to dig with bare hands and reach trapped neighbours.

The town of Teresopolis, about 100km north of Rio, was one of the worst hit, with at least 146 people killed, officials said.

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

Petropolis and Nova Friburgo, the two other towns in the region were also hit as the downpour sent water and mud surging through their communities.

Residents said they had no food, water or medication, and many made the long walk to the main area of Teresopolis to get help.

Only a few rescuers had managed by Thursday to hike to the neighborhoods and they only had shovels and machetes to help them look for survivors.

The overall death toll is expected to rise, with about 50 people believed to be missing in Teresopolis alone, Jorge Mario, the city's mayor, told Globo television.

"Rescue teams are still arriving in the areas that have been worst affected," he said, adding that about 900 people had been left homeless.

"It's the biggest catastrophe in the history of the town."

'Many disappeared'

Survivors waded through waist-high water, carrying what belongings they could, trying to reach higher ground. Many tried desperately to find relatives.

"There are so many disappeared - and so many that will probably never be found," Angela Marina de Carvalho Silva, who believes she may have lost 15 relatives to the flood, told The Assciated Press news agency.

"There was nothing we could do. It was hell."

The downpour caused at least one river to burst its banks, submerging cars and destroying houses in Teresopolis.

"I saw six bodies on my street," Antonio Venancio, a 53-year-old Teresopolis resident whose house was inundated with mud but remained standing, told the Reuters news agency by telephone.

"We just don't know what to do in the face of something so horrible."

Images taken from helicopters showed torrents of water cascading down mountains over the town of 180,000 people, and houses swamped in tonnes of mud.

Thousands of people in the picturesque area, known as the Serrana region, have been isolated by the flood waters and cut off from power and telephone contact.

Buses and trucks were shown stranded on streets with flood waters reaching up to their windows.

Rescue efforts

Sergio Cabral, the Rio state governor, said in a statement that he had asked the navy for aircraft to take rescue crews and equipment to the region, which was partially cut off from Rio by road.

Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo reporting from central Teresopolis said the main police station there has been turned into a morgue and officials also had to open a vacant building nearby to place the bodies that had been showing up.

"The rescue workers are having a hard time, these areas are very difficult to reach, and there's no cell phone communication, no electricity, no water here," said our correspondent.

"People are still in shock. They are just walking around in a daze and waiting for any news they can get. In the main city, they are dealing with it as best as they can, the situation has just gone from bad to worse."

In the town of Nova Friburgo, where 155 people have died, four fireman were missing after being buried by a mudslide while they tried to rescue victims, according to fire officials.

On Tuesday, rains sweeping through Sao Paulo state killed 13 people and snarled transport in the country's financial capital.

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's president, signed a measure on Wednesday sending $461m to towns in Rio and Sao Paulo states that were damaged during the rains.

The money will go towards repairing infrastructure and preventing future disasters.

The president is scheduled to fly over the affected areas but she will not be able to land there.

"This is going to be a massive test for Dilma Rousseff, it is the first natural disaster of this scale that has hit Brazil in decades, so it will be a major test that she will be facing very early on," our correspondent said.

Heavy rains, common during Brazil's summer wet season, were intensified this week by a cold front which doubled the usual precipitation.

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