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Lethal rains return to Brazil

Dozens feared still buried under mud and rubble from devastating floods

Christ the Redeemer of Corcovado, the protective symbol of the city of Rio de Janeiro, is depicted by Brazilian cartoon artists with a black band of mourning around his arm.

The rains have returned to the disaster regions, especially in Petrópolis and Nova Friburgo, bringing death, fear and destruction. More landslides over the weekend buried entire families.

The death toll from the floods and landslides on Tuesday reached 666.

The Rio de Janeiro government has declared a state of public emergency in seven municipalities and announced the construction of 3,000 houses for some of the nearly 6,050 families who lost their homes and for others who have to be relocated because they live in high-risk areas.

President Dilma Rousseff declared three days of national mourning from Monday. "There are hundreds of dead and we don't know how many more," said Rousseff about the disaster that struck just days into her term of office.

Authorities are concentrating their efforts to restore all utilities after many areas remained without electrical supplies, water and phone lines. The regional government is trying to rebuild while rescuers continue their work, mainly in isolated areas that were covered with tons of dirt, rocks and mud that slid from the mountains. Climatologists say that some areas saw more water in one month than they usually do in the entire year.

In Teresopolis, where the National Football Federation training facility has become a grocery store and filled with makeshift rooms for volunteer rescue teams, 133 people are missing and thought to be buried under the rubble.

The most affected city, Nova Friburgo, accounts for nearly half of the deaths. Twenty percent of the dead in the city are children. The white coffins mourned by desperate mothers are a daily sight on the news. On Sunday most army helicopters had to stay on land with their power off in Novo Friburgo.

Reconstruction of the three largest cities in the tragedy, major tourist sites Petrópolis, Nova Friburgo and Teresopolis, will cost the governments two billion reales, official say.

Itaipava, the luxury tourist region of Petrópolis, has again been hit by the rains, leading the San Antonio river to break its banks and leave a trail of destruction in the towns of Valle de Cuiabá, Madame Machado and Brejal. The bodies are still buried under the mud and it will only be possible to rescue them with special machines according to the fire commander, Colonel Souza Viana.

In the region of Brejal, in Paraná state, the threat of a dam break forced the locals to flee using small paths through the vegetation used by animals, without waiting for rescuers. Fear is a common denominator in the area, where the economy is in tatters and the police try to keep speculators from taking advantage of the moment and hike up prices of all foodstuffs and other emergency materials. Meanwhile, despite the help of the armed forces on the scene, there are complaints about a lack of coordination in the delivery of food coming from the rest of Brazil.

Soldiers and civilians working together on the rescue efforts to save the victims of the avalanches caused by the heavy rains that have hit Nova Friburgo.
Soldiers and civilians working together on the rescue efforts to save the victims of the avalanches caused by the heavy rains that have hit Nova Friburgo.EFE
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