Brazilian mayor: Floods have flattened entire town

Torrential waters flattened a small town as floods raged through two states in northeastern Brazil and the death toll was expected to surpass 44 as rescuers searched Wednesday for hundreds of people reported missing.

Mayor Ana Lopes said the entire town of Branquinha, population 12,000, will have to be rebuilt in a different location. Television footage showed a train station washed away, its tracks ripped from the earth. Cars lay overturned and strewn along a riverbank. Dazed people wandered about streets littered with couches, chairs and mountains of mud.

A humble Roman Catholic Church with a rose-colored facade was one of the few buildings to survive — but it was surrounded by the rubble of nearby homes.

Storms last week dumped a month's worth of rain on parts of neighboring Alagoas and Pernambuco states, near the point where Brazil juts farthest east into the Atlantic.

The Civil Defense Department said in a statement that 29 deaths had been reported so far in Alagoas, while 15 were reported dead in Pernambuco.

In this photo released by Agencia Brasil, a broken bridge stands in a swollen river after heavy rains in the city of Barreiros in Pernambuco state, Brazil, Wednesday, June 23, 2010.
In this photo released by Agencia Brasil, a broken bridge stands in a swollen river after heavy rains in the city of Barreiros in Pernambuco state, Brazil, Wednesday, June 23, 2010.

At least 120,000 people were driven from their homes by the rains, but many found shelter in schools, churches or with family members.

In May 2009, flooding in the same areas killed at least 44 people and displaced 380,000.

Lopes said Wednesday that she would ask the federal government for help in obtaining land farther away from the Mundau river, which left its banks and sent powerful torrents of water through Branquinha. She also held out hopes for finding most of the 600 people reported missing, mostly from her town and another nearby.

"We hope that the people who are missing are found as quickly as possible, but it is still possible to believe that more people have been killed," she was quoted as saying by G1, the news portal for Globo television.

Rains lifted early Wednesday, allowing rescuers to more easily reach the affected areas, but showers returned by afternoon. Officials said the areas prone to flooding had been evacuated to avoid more deaths.

The Civil Defense department of Alagoas said 200 soldiers were using planes, boats, helicopters and trucks to reach the hardest-hit areas. Tons of food, medical supplies and blankets arrived in the state capital and were being distributed. Heavy machinery was used to remove destroyed homes, while search dogs scoured areas where survivors or more bodies might be found.

A fire department spokeswoman in Maceio, the capital of Alagoas, said there were no reports yet of survivors found, but also nothing to indicate the missing were dead. She spoke on condition of anonymity, per department rules.

On Tuesday, Civil Defense officials said they believed most of the missing were safe — just unable to notify relatives of their status because there was no electricity and phones were knocked out.

Roads were erased by flooding and bridges torn in pieces, hampering search and rescue efforts and making aid delivery more difficult. The federal Transportation Ministry announced emergency funds of $40 million to begin immediate repairs.

The administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced it was sending $56 million in food, medicine and other aid, and air force planes had already delivered about 10 tons of supplies to some of the worst-hit areas, officials said.

In the city of Palmares, in Pernambuco, residents complained of no support.

"I lost everything. I and my four sons don't have a home. The little one, 4 years old, broke his arm in a current when he was thrown against a wall," Ana Claudia da Silva, washing mud from her clothes in a public plaza, was quoted as telling the newspaper O Globo newspaper. "All I have today is this umbrella, a bucket and dirty clothes."

Mechanic Ronaldo Claudino, who took six families into his home, told the newspaper that the only effort at support he saw in Palmares were two tanker trucks carrying fresh water, but they did not stop for thirsty citizens in his neighborhood.

"We don't have anything to eat, to drink. We don't even have money," he said. "And, if we had it, there would not be anything to buy."

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