Teresopolis (Brazil), Jan 14 (AFP) Brazil is sufferingits worst-ever natural disaster after mudslides near Rio deJaneiro this week killed more than 500 people, media compilingthe deaths said today.
Municipal officials in the Serrana region just northof Rio said at least 506 people were killed, surpassing the437 toll from a 1967 mudslide that had been previouslyconsidered Brazil''s biggest disaster.
More bodies were expected to turn up as rescuersfinally reached villages cut off by destroyed roads andbridges.
The G1 news outlet called it "the biggest climatictragedy in the history of the country."
In frantic efforts to locate survivors and bodies,rescuers braved the risk of further mudslides, as raincontinued to fall on the waterlogged region, making it evenmore unstable.
"It''s very overwhelming. The scenes are veryshocking," President Dilma Rousseff said after visiting thearea today.
She pledged "strong action" by her government, whichhas already released USD 470 million in initial emergency aidand sent seven tonnes of medical supplies.
The catastrophe was seen as her first big test sincetaking power two weeks ago, replacing her popular predecessor,Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Storms dumped the equivalent of a month''s rain in justa few hours before dawn Wednesday, sending mudslides slicingthrough towns and hamlets, destroying homes, roads and bridgesand knocking out telephone and power lines.
The worst affected towns were Novo Friburgo, whichrecorded 225 deaths, Teresopolis, with 223 deaths, andPetropolis, with 39 deaths, according to municipal officials.
Another 19 fatalities were registered in the village ofSumidouro.
The death toll from this single disaster exceeded the473 rain-related deaths recorded for all of Brazil over thewhole of of last year.
Churches and police stations were turned intomakeshift morgues, the smell of decomposing corpses heavy inthe warm air. Thousands of survivors took refuge in shelters.
The atmosphere was mournful as the extent of thedisaster became apparent in the devastated mountain two ofTeresopolis.
Bodies piled up in the temporary morgues while crowdsof people desperate to learn the fate of loved ones gatheredoutside. (AFP)