The Heat Is Online

Brazil's Worst Flooding in 25 Years Kills At Least 47

Mudslides kill at least 47 in northeast Brazil

Reuters News Service, Aug. 3, 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO - Mudslides, triggered by five days of torrential rains in Brazil's northeast, have killed at least 47 people, and have forced 120,000 to abandon their homes, officials said yesterday. It was the region's worst flooding in 25 years.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso flew to the poverty-stricken northeastern states of Pernambuco and Alagoas to assess damage and to check rescue efforts.

More rain was in the forecast.

''We're in a truly critical state,'' said Liara Nogueira, a spokeswoman for the Alagoas state government.

''Thousands of people are seeking shelter in schools and gyms and anywhere else that we can find. There's no electricity and little food in many towns,'' she said in an interview.

Both states have declared states of emergency or high alert in 46 cities and towns. Troops, meanwhile, have moved in to help clear roads and dig away the mountains of mud that have covered neighborhoods.

They also plan to provide helicopters to carry flood victims to hospitals and shelter.

The rains have caused dozens of avalanches of mud, buried homes and swept away roads and bridges, hindering the rescue work. Television images have shown towns partially submerged in water and residents crawling out of shacks.

''This is the worst damage from a natural disaster that we've had since floods in 1975,'' said Carlos Alberto D'Albuquerque, a Pernambuco civil defense official.

While rains let up in Pernambuco, and while some residents started returning to their rain-drenched homes, the floods continued to pound Alagoas. Both states are expected to suffer more precipitation.

The mudslides killed 29 people in Alagoas, slamming into houses in hillside slums and forcing 70,000 residents to abandon their homes. Another 18 were killed in neighboring Pernambuco; as many as 50,000 were evacuated.

''It's still raining in the interior of the state so I imagine we'll be getting more bad news before the day is over,'' said Erivaldo Batista dos Santos, a firefighter and rescue leader.

Cardoso flew yesterday into Pernambuco's capital, Recife, and then headed onto Maceio, the capital of Alagoas, in a ''totally improvised trip,'' his press office said.

Coastal regions in the northeast often experience floods in a rainy season that lasts from April to August. This year's heavy rains have been particularly devastating.