* Death toll likely to top 500, more rain expected
* Rescuers try to reach isolated areas
* President Rousseff visits region, promises help
* Soy, sugar cane and coffee crops not affected
By Sergio Queiroz and Stuart Grudgings
TERESOPOLIS, Brazil, Jan 14 Rescue workers in
Brazil braced for more rain on Friday as they struggled to
reach areas cut off by massive floods and landslides that look
certain to have killed more than 500 people.
In one of the country's worst natural disasters, rivers of
mud tore through towns in the mountainous Serrana region
outside Rio de Janeiro, leveling houses, throwing cars atop
buildings and stranding thousands of residents.
"What happened here is absurd. It looks like the war in
Vietnam," said Albertino Lazaro, 54, who took shelter in a
gymnasium set up to house displaced families in the town of
Teresopolis, where at least 223 people were killed.
"It's a lot better than being out there in the mud," he
said of the shelter as children played soccer among families
sleeping on mattresses.
The death toll was 495 people, according to official
tallies late on Thursday, but rescuers had yet to reach some of
the worst-hit parts of Teresopolis, including one neighborhood
where around 150 houses were believed to have been destroyed.
More than 13,500 people have been left homeless.
The flooding likely caused billions of dollars in damage
and has presented President Dilma Rousseff with her first
crisis only two weeks after she took office.
Brazil floods pictures r.reuters.com/guh36r
Brazil floods video r.reuters.com/par36r
Graphic-Rainfall and coffee r.reuters.com/jyx64r
Beyond the loss of life and property, the damage from the
rains could further boost food prices in parts of southeastern
Brazil, a major concern for the government.
The Serrana region is an important producer of fruit and
vegetables for the Rio area but the floods have not affected
Brazil's main crops such as soy, sugar cane, oranges and
Rio, famed for its beaches and Carnival, will co-host
soccer's World Cup in 2014 and host the Olympics in 2016.
"WE CAN'T STOP"
In Teresopolis, bodies had to be taken to a nearby church
after the town's morgue filled up. Officials showed pictures of
the corpses to residents to identify family members.
In Nova Friburgo, a rural town first settled by Swiss
immigrants, at least 214 people died. In Petropolis, once the
summer residence for Brazil's royal family, 40 people were
killed, while at least 18 died in Sumidoro.
Rousseff, who has earmarked 780 million reais ($460
million) in emergency aid, briefly visited the region to meet
local officials. The government said it was sending 210 members
of the National Public Security Force to help identify bodies.
Hillsides and riverbanks in the area, about 60 miles (100
km) north of Rio, collapsed after the equivalent of a month's
rain fell in 24 hours from Tuesday night.
Rescuers worked to haul people from raging floodwaters and
combed ruined homes for survivors, often finding only corpses.
But a 6-month-old baby was rescued from the rubble of a
house, drawing thunderous cheers from residents.
One woman held a dog in the ruins of her house as surging
water tore at the remaining walls. She grabbed a rope thrown
from a nearby rooftop and was pulled to safety but had to drop
the dog into the vicious current.
"The situation is critical but we have to advance. We can't
stop," said fire department colonel Jose Paulo Miranda.
Landslides and flash floods are common in much of Brazil,
often exposing poor planning and a lack of preventive action by
Rousseff told reporters that construction of housing in
high-risk areas is "the rule in Brazil rather than the
exception," adding the lack of adequate housing policy
contributed to the problem.
(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca, Eduardo Simoes and
Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by John