Hundreds dead in "tsunami from the sky" in Brazil - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Hundreds dead in "tsunami from the sky" in Brazil

ITAIPAVA, BRAZIL (CNN) - More than 500 people have been killed by floods sweeping through Brazil.

Flood water rushed through hill towns and giant boulders catapulted from hillsides, instantly crushing cars and houses in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Conditions were so treacherous that rescue teams had to call it quits during the night and resume search and recovery the next morning.

Officials at the Ministry of Civil Defense fear that the number of dead will escalate.

Rescuers have not been able to reach some hard-hit areas that have become virtually isolated or buried under earth, the official Agencia Brasil news agency said.

More rain fell overnight and is predicted to continue for several days in areas already submerged in water or slathered with mud.

About 10,000 people in mountain towns have been affected and many others still living on slopes or river banks are in extreme danger of being washed away.

One resident described the disaster as a tsunami that fell from the sky.

Chaos reigned in the especially hard-hit city of Teresolplis, where some residents donned masks and helped clean streets or deliver first aid.

Others wandered about, searching desperately for missing loved ones. Schools and police stations turned into overflowing morgues, where people waited to identify their family and friends.

Municipal worker Reginald de Oliveira came to see if he could find the body of his uncle who went missing in the floods. He said he was trying to save his family when a wall of water washed him away.

A Red Cross volunteer, Maria Helena de Jesus, helped with first aid.

"You have to almost have a heart of stone," she said. "It was very difficult."

The town was declared a natural disaster area by its mayor.

New Brazillian President Dilma Rousseff flew over flood-affected areas Thursday and trudged through mud in her rain boots to talk to residents in a neighborhood where four of seven firefighters attempting to rescue people were buried under mud.

She said the government would take firm action to help the devastated areas.

But Brazillian authorities have been criticized for a lack of disaster planning and allowing people to build homes in areas known to become treacherous in the rainy season.

House roofs and treetops peeked out from water and people used inflatable rafts or inner tubes to navigate submerged roads.

With more rain forecast, authorities have ordered evacuations for at least 5,000 families living in especially perilous areas in Rio de Janeiro. Another 3,000 families from another mountainous region were homeless and sheltered in schools and gymnasiums.

"The most important thing right now is to assist the homeless population and reach the most critical points," Rodrigo Neves, the state secretary of Social Welfare and Human Rights said.

State health officials pleaded for people to donate blood that will be sent to the Serrana region, where only 36 units remained for treatment of flood victims.

Rain also affected a neighboring state, Sao Paulo, and killed 24 more people.

The deluge in this part of Brazil began with the new year and is predicted to continue until the end of the week.

Almost 8' fell on Tuesday alone.

A year ago, heavy rains also caused dozens of deaths along Brazil's southeast coast.

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