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Rio de Janeiro on maximum alert as towns flood


Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state placed emergency teams on maximum alert yesterday as heavy rains that have displaced 35,000 residents were forecast to continue, reviving fears of mudslides and flooding that killed about 900 people last year.

Residents scrambled to gather their belongings and flee in the Tres Vendas district of Campos de Goytacazes in the north of the state, after a dike ruptured, sending water rushing through the streets.

Emergency workers said more than 1,000 families from Tres Vendas were evacuated to shelters.

"We're trying to put up stone barriers to prevent the water advancing but it's difficult," Rosinha Garotinho, prefect of Campos and a former state governor told Reuters. She said there was no immediate risk of flooding in other districts of Campos.

Rio governor Sergio Cabral said the maximum alert, which requires emergency teams to intensify preparations, was focused on vulnerable towns in the north and northeast of the state as well as the Serrana region 60 miles north of the capital.

A year ago, heavy rain caused mudslides in the Serrana region that killed around 900 people, many of whom were asleep when rivers of mud buried them in their homes.

Local media reported eight people had died by yesterday after floods in neighbouring Minas Gerais state and 87 towns there declared a states of emergency. A pensioner was reported to have been killed while trying to save personal belongings in one flooded town in northeastern Rio de Janeiro.

Photographs of the ruptured dike in Tres Vendas showed muddy water rushing through a gap in the dike about the width of three cars. A motorist stared at what had been a stretch of road on top of the dike that had been swept away.

"Now, about 40 per cent of the streets (of Tres Vendas) are engulfed in water and we expect it will reach them all," said Major Edison Pessanha of the Civil Defence authority, according to a local government website.

Campos de Goytacazes about 175 miles north of Rio de Janeiro is adjacent to the offshore Campos Basin from where about 80 per cent of Brazil's oil is pumped.