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Brazil mudslide survivors dig for their loved ones; 700 reported killed

January 19, 2011 | 10:10 am

Brazil dog survivors grave mudslides afp

The death toll keeps rising as the mud is cleared in Brazil. More than 700 people have been reported killed in flash floods and mudslides last week in the state of Rio de Janeiro. More than 14,000 are homeless in one of the worst natural disasters in Brazilian history, officials said.

The stories trickling out of the remote mountainous region hardest hit by the slides are both moving and alarming.

With rescue crews arriving slowly due to poor weather and rugged terrain, survivors are digging out their own dead, and bodies are decomposing rapidly, spreading the smell of death. In Teresopolis, a town hammered by the disaster, a lone dog named Leao, pictured above, has kept watch beside the muddy grave of his owner. Dramatic footage emerged this week of a man rescued after being found buried alive beneath the mud. But many of those affected have not been so fortunate.

In the video report embedded below, a man named Manuel Antonio de Oliveira digs on his own for the bodies of his children and grandson. Rescuers eventually pull out one body, but when night falls, he is left alone with the mud and ruins, until his other loved ones can be recovered the next morning.

President Dilma Rousseff, facing the first major disaster of her government, on Thursday promised swift aid for the region after observing the affected areas from a helicopter. The World Bank has pledged $485 million for rebuilding and future prevention plans.

The slides have once again brought attention to lax safety measures in the poorer areas around metropolitan Rio de Janeiro, where low-income families construct unsafe housing along steep hillsides. The government plans on beefing up a national alert system to warn of future flooding disasters.

The threat of more slides, meanwhile, remains high as summer rainfall continues.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A dog named Leao keeps watch besides the muddy grave his owner in Teresopolis, a town hard-hit by mudslides in Rio de Janeiro state. Credit: Agence France-Presse