Brazil flood, mudslide death toll rises

November 25, 2008 10:33:01 AM PST
Rescue workers desperately digging through the wreckage of homes engulfed by mudslides found more bodies on Tuesday in southern Brazil, raising the death toll from rain-spawned floods and hillside collapses to 72. As many as 30 people were still missing in small cities and towns across Santa Catarina state, where torrential weekend rains far surpassed records going back to 1961.

Most of the dead were killed in mudslides that swept away homes and businesses, and nearly 54,000 were displaced, civil defense officials said in a statement.

Eight cities remained isolated and were running short of everything from drinking water to fuel because of the rains that caused rivers to overflow their banks. Four helicopters were being used to rescue stranded people surrounded by water.

A pipeline rupture cut off natural gas from the state's sole source in Bolivia, prompting shortages of cooking gas and fuel for cars. Gas was also cut off to the neigbhoring state of Rio Grande do Sul that borders Argentina and Uruguay.

Six large textile mills also shut down because they had no natural gas to generate electricity, Brazil's Valor Economico business newspaper reported.

Seventeen highways are blocked by mudslides, and officials said it could take days to reopen several that were heaped high with earth and trees from entire hillsides that turned to mud, broke away and crashed in heaps atop the pavement.

The death toll was most severe in the town of Ilhota along the banks of the Itajai River, where 15 people died after waters rose 9 meters (30 feet) above normal.

Also hard hit was the nearby city of Blumenau, where 13 people died when they were buried by mudslides. Another 15 people suffered serious injuries, according to the civil defense statement.

More than 150,000 people in the city of nearly 300,000 had no electricity, and 500 soldiers were sent in to help flood victims. Blumenau is a renowned tourist destination founded by German immigrants and is known for its Oktoberfest celebration.

Rain was still falling in Blumenau on Tuesday, and forecasters said it would probably continue until Wednesday.

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