Rescuers rush aid to Brazil flood towns; 44 dead

RIO LARGO, Brazil Wed Jun 23, 2010 8:10pm EDT

1 of 9. A destroyed railroad is seen after heavy rains in Rio Largo city, in the northeastern state of Alagoas June 23, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

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RIO LARGO, Brazil (Reuters) - Rescuers in northeastern Brazil rushed to get food and water to stranded residents and searched for missing people on Wednesday after raging floods killed at least 44 people and destroyed towns.

Days of heavy rain in the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco caused rivers to break their banks and burst dams, flooding towns and leaving more than 40,000 people homeless, state emergency officials said.

Troops and state rescuers used helicopters and boats to reach towns cut off by the floods and deliver thousands of baskets of food and other supplies sent by the federal government. The delivery of aid was hampered by the destruction of many railway tracks and roads.

Alagoas state officials said 600 people were reported missing but added the number was based on unverified accounts by local communities and may be lower.

Rio Largo, one of the worst affected towns in Alagoas, was nearly wiped off the map after a dam broke and raging water destroyed everything in its way.

A twisted railway, ruins and mud were all that was left of the poor town, where residents searched for survivors.

"It came with so much force, washing away houses in the town. The town of Rio Largo is pretty much finished," said resident Nelson Rodrigues de Franca.

Antonio da Silva said he was lucky to escape after his riverside house was completely destroyed.

"I am here, thank God. All this here we can figure out later. I'm just happy I got out alive," he said.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva held an emergency meeting on Tuesday and his government allocated 100 million reais ($56 million) for relief efforts and 20,000 baskets of basic food supplies for the two states, as well as mattresses and blankets for the thousands of homeless.

Some parts of the northeast reported more than 40 cm (13 inches) of rainfall over the past four days and more is forecast in the coming days, raising fears of further damage.

(Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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