News24

Floods wash entire towns away

2010-06-23 09:14

Brasilia - Raging floods in north-eastern Brazil have killed at least 41 people and left as many as 1 000 missing, officials said on Tuesday, while firefighters described entire towns being wiped off the map.

Dramatic television pictures showed survivors scrambling to rooftops to avoid being swept away, clinging desperately to lines of rope as rescuers in helicopters rushed to pluck them from the muddy floodwaters.

More heavy rain was forecast for Wednesday.

"Up until the early afternoon we had 26 confirmed dead in Alagoas and more than 1 000 people missing," the governor of the poor coastal state Teotonio Vilela Filho told government news wire Agencia Brasil.

"But we are worried because bodies are starting to appear on the beaches and the rivers."

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced late on Tuesday that he would be back to overfly the area on Thursday, as Defence Minister Nelson Jobim has done, the official news agency Agencia Brasil reported.

Only rooftops, bell towers visible

Almost 100 000 people in the two states were left without a home or forced to evacuate, while some towns were completely cut off as powerful torrents collapsed bridges and swamped roads and railway lines, officials said.

Rooftops and church bell towers were the only structures visible above massive brown expanses of floodwater that only looked set to rise in the coming days.

A firefighters' spokesperson told AFP entire towns had been "wiped off the map" after the Mundau river burst its banks in the town of Uniao dos Palmares in Alagoas.

In the separate town of Palmares in the neighboring state of Pernambuco, a woman who lost her home sobbed as she told Globonews television: "It destroyed our city. It destroyed everything."

Jose Mariano, whose house in nearby Cachanga was waterlogged, said: "It was really tough here. We had a refrigerator and an armoire at my brother's house for safe keeping and the water came in and just kept rising."

$55m in aid

Five Air Force helicopters ferried aid to those stranded by the flooding, while a military plane also delivered some 14 tonnes of donated food, medicine, drinking water and mattresses.

Lula held a crisis cabinet meeting that included ministers and the governors of the affected states.

Afterwards, officials announced $55m in emergency aid, half of which had already been delivered to the state governments.

Governor Padilha said the priority was to get emergency drinking water and food to the flooded areas, and restore electricity.

In April, flooding and landslides triggered by torrential rain killed at least 229 people in the Rio de Janeiro area.