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Death Toll Rises Above 500 in Brazil Mudslides

Residents walk by overturned cars as they leave with their belongings after a landslide in Teresopolis, Brazil, 13 Jan 2011

The death toll from massive flooding and mudslides in Brazil has topped 500 as renewed rainfall threatens to complicate efforts by rescuers to reach people trapped in isolated areas.

More rain fell in affected areas near the city of Rio de Janeiro Friday, with forecasters warning it would likely continue into next week. The storms dumped the equivalent of a month's rain on the disaster zone in recent days, leaving a trail of destruction through the Serrana region near Rio. The situation is being described as one of the country's worst natural disasters.

Rivers of mud have leveled houses, thrown cars on top of buildings and forced at least 14,000 people their homes.

The hardest hit towns were Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo, suffering about 225 deaths each. Some 40 deaths occurred in Petropolis, while at least 16 people were killed in the village of Sumidouro. Officials fear the death toll will rise.

The government has allocated some $460 million in emergency aid for the affected areas. President Dilma Rousseff, who assumed office January 1, took a helicopter tour of the disaster zone Thursday.

Earlier in the week, heavy rains killed 13 people in Sao Paulo state.

Landslides and floods are common in Brazil, often affecting poor communities with shacks built on steep, unstable hillsides.

In January of last year, more than 50 people died in mudslides in the beach town of Angra dos Reis, and at least 180 people died in landslides last April that devastated slum communities in Rio.