Brazil leader asks God to halt rains

Monday, December 1st 2008, 6:37 pm
By: News 9

Brazil (AP) -- Brazil's president asked God to halt the devastating rains that have killed at least 116 people in a southern state and offered new plans on Monday to help tens of thousands of people rebuild ruined homes and businesses.

   Continuing rains have hindered rescuers' attempts to find bodies of more victims claimed by the mudslides and floods in Santa Catarina state while making it tough for survivors to return home, Silva said on his weekly radio show.

   "We're only asking God to stop the rains soon so that we can start to rebuild the state of Santa Catarina," he said.

   Thirty-one people are still missing, and some officials have estimated the death count could rise to as much as 150.

   About 80,000 people were forced from their homes by storms that dumped more water on the region during the weekend of Nov. 22-23 than it normally gets in months. Another 8,000 people were displaced in neighboring Rio de Janeiro state.

   Silva said the government may let people take money from their mandatory unemployment accounts to rebuild homes and businesses destroyed by mudslides, and said state-owned Banco do Brasil SA may offer special loans for farmers hit hard by the floods.

   He also called for a study on the causes of the tragedy, saying that heavy rains alone should not have been able to cause such devastation.

   The aid comes up top of programs announced last week for 2 billion reals ($830 million) in government emergency aid and 1.5 billion reals ($650 million) in loans from the government-owned bank Caixa Economica Federal for people and businesses in the disaster zone.

   Almost all Brazilians have the unemployment accounts that receive contributions from workers and employers. Brazilians are allowed to use money from the accounts to buy a first home. Silva did not specify how the government would allow flood victims to use the money or describe amounts that victims could withdraw.

   Forecasters said intermittent rains should end on Thursday.