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Brazil floods death toll tops 500

Grieving mudslide survivors have carried the bodies of loved ones for hours down washed-out mountainsides in Brazil as the death toll hit 514.

Officials said the death toll in four towns north of Rio de Janeiro was still rising and could jump further once rescuers can reach areas cut off by Wednesday's slides. They refused to estimate how many remain missing but local reports put it in the hundreds.

After morning rains caused delays, rescuers resumed their efforts but manpower or resources had yet to reach many in Teresopolis, a mountain city of 163,000.

The avalanche of mud and water swept away trees and sent boulders larger than cars rumbling down the slopes, destroying everything in their paths, striking rich and poor alike - though most of the toll appears to have fallen on the poor.

It is the worst natural disaster to hit Latin America's biggest nation since flooding and slides in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states killed 785 people in 1967, according to the Brussels-based International Disaster Database, which has records of deadly natural events in Brazil since 1900.

Despite the number of deaths, the relatively low number of injured has surprised officials.

Carlos Eduardo Coelho, in charge of the Rio state's health services effort in Teresopolis, said hospitals have ample space. He said that on Thursday, 185 people were treated for injuries in two city hospitals while 20 people sought treatment in a military field hospital.

Rio state's Civil Defence department said on its website that 227 people were killed in Teresopolis and 230 in Nova Friburgo, a 45-mile drive to the west of Teresopolis that draws hikers and campers to mountain trails, waterfalls and dramatic views of lush green slopes.

Another 41 died in neighbouring Petropolis and 16 in the town of Sumidouro. The Civil Defence agency said about 14,000 people had been driven from their homes.

An additional 37 people had died in floods and mudslides since Christmas in other parts of south-eastern Brazil - 16 in Minas Gerais state north of Rio and 21 in Sao Paulo state.

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