Teresopolis (Brazil), Jan 13 (AFP) Rescuers searchedthrough layers of mud today for survivors and bodies afterfreakishly heavy rains caused landslides and torrents to slicethrough three towns near Rio de Janeiro, killing at least 356people.
Media said the calamity, devastating the mountaintowns of Teresopolis, Petropolis and Novo Friburgo, wasBrazil''s worst natural disaster in 43 years.
President Dilma Rousseff was to fly over the zonetoday. Her government has released USD 470 million in initialemergency aid and sent seven tons of medical supplies.
The death toll from the area, known as the Serrana,has risen progressively as rescuers spread out into remotehamlets.
Destroyed roads and bridges meant that access in manycases was possible only with one of seven helicopters deployedto help rescue efforts. Telephones and power systems hadcollapsed in several locations.
The catastrophe struck before dawn yesterday, asfamilies were asleep in their homes.
Tropical rains are common at this time of year insoutheastern Brazil. But they were suddenly intensified by acold front, bringing weeks'' worth of water crashing down in amatter of hours.
Houses collapsed, hillsides gave way and rivers broketheir banks.
"One woman tried to save her children but hertwo-month-old baby was carried away by a torrent like a doll,"said Angela, a 55-year-old resident of Teresopolis. (AFP)