The death toll from mudslides and flooding in Brazil reached 480 on Thursday as rescue teams recovered more bodies of victims from the disaster unleashed by ongoing heavy rains.
In the mountainous region of the state of Rio de Janeiro, there were a total of 397 deaths Wednesday.
The hardest-hit cities were Teresopolis, with at least 208 deaths, and Nova Friburgo, with 214. In Sumidouro, 17 bodies were recovered Thursday, and authorities confirmed 39 deaths in the historic city of Petropolis, mostly in Cuiaba Valley, home to luxurious holiday retreats.
“This is a very dramatic moment,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff told a press conference Thursday in Rio, after flying over the disaster areas and paying a 45-minute visit to Nova Friburgo.
“The scenes are shocking. People’s suffering is visible.” Ms. Rousseff promised to “rescue people, restructure living conditions in the affected regions, to guarantee access to medication and to medical treatment, to alleviate suffering for the loss of homes and goods.” She stressed that measures will be undertaken in the future to prevent such a tragedy -- the deadliest one-day natural disaster in Brazil’s history.
Most of the deaths occurred Wednesday. Authorities feared that the death toll would continue to rise, with rescue teams yet to reach some of the worst-affected areas.
Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergio Cabral, who cut short a holiday abroad to oversee rescue efforts, toured the area with Rousseff Thursday.
Meteorologists forecast more rain in the area in the coming days.
Cabral asked locals to evacuate if their homes are in areas at risk of mudslides or flooding.
Ms. Rousseff intends to release around $464 million to assist disaster victims in Rio state and neighbouring Sao Paulo, where 13 people died late Monday.
An estimated 160 mm of rain fell on Teresopolis over just four hours on Wednesday, Mayor Jorge Mario Sedlacek said. That was more than the total that normally falls in all of January.
Worst hit in Brazil’s seasonal rains are slums and other poor neighbourhoods, which are often built illegally on hillsides.