Brazil tries to rush aid to flood victims

Wednesday, November 26th 2008, 1:43 pm
By: News 9

NAVEGANTES, Brazil (AP) -- Brazil tried to rush aid on Wednesday to 50,000 people driven from their homes by rain-spawned mudslides that have killed at least 86 people, while helicopter crews searched for families isolated by floodwaters.

   President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was expected to sign a measure freeing up 1.2 billion reals ($520 million) to aid the victims, many of them still without access to electricity, drinking water and food.

   Silva also was scheduled to tour hard-hit Santa Catarina state, where weekend downpours dumped as much water as the area in southern Brazil usually gets in four months.

   Civil defense officials said mudslides and floods had killed at least 86 people, with at least 30 others missing.

   Local news media reported looting in stores and supermarkets, as well as price gouging in some areas where food was running short.

   Reaching the victims was difficult because eight cities with nearly 100,000 people remained isolated by floodwaters. Helicopters -- some provided by the government, others donated by businesses -- had rescued more than 1,000 people.

   "The situation remains complicated," Army Lt. Col. Jose Henrique Ruffo told Globo TV. "The cities in the south still cannot be reached, it's going to take some time."

   Thousands of civil defense workers, troops and police were trying to bring aid, and about 3 tons of medicine, food, water and other supplies already had been distributed.

   The hardest-hit city was Blumenau, where 20 people died because of mudslides. Half of the population in the renowned tourist destination of nearly 300,000 had no electricity.

   Officials said it could take days to reopen many of the region's slide-blocked highways.


   Associated Press Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

   (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)