The death toll from flooding and landslides in Brazil’s southern state of Sao Paulo reached 44 on Tuesday as searches continued for dozens still missing.
Most of the search was concentrated in the mountainous coastal municipality of Sao Sebastiao where 43 deaths have been recorded. Firefighters still hoped to find people alive in the rubble of houses slammed by landslides during a weekend deluge, said Sao Sebastiao city hall worker Pedro de Rosario.
“Hope is the last thing that dies, so we have a lot of hope," de Rosario said. “There are still people buried.”
Seven bodies have been identified and released for burial, while nearly 800 people are homeless and 1,730 people have been displaced, the Sao Paulo state government said in a statement.
Members of the armed forces joined the search and rescue efforts, and starting Thursday the Navy will build a hospital with up to 300 beds to help relief efforts, Gov. Tarcisio de Freitas said at a news conference in Sao Sebastiao on Tuesday.
Authorities are digging through the mud and clearing roads, but parts of the highway connecting Rio de Janeiro state with Sao Paulo’s port city of Santos are still blocked by landslides. Another road connecting the city of Bortiga to inland Sao Paulo remains completely blocked.
Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the region on Monday. In remarks to reporters, he called for people living in the hillside areas to be relocated to safer regions.
Precipitation in Sao Sebastiao surpassed 600 millimeters (23.6 inches) during a 24-hour period over the weekend, among the largest such downpours ever in such a short period in Brazil.
Around 7.5 tons of aid items including food, water and hygiene kits have already been distributed to the victims, the state government of Sao Paulo said.
The affected area, on the northern coast of Sao Paulo state and famous for beach resorts flanked by mountains, is a frequent Carnival destination for wealthy tourists who prefer to stay away from massive street parties in big cities.