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Brazil Flood Death Toll Climbs

A flooded area in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, 17 Jan 2011
A flooded area in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, 17 Jan 2011

The death toll from devastating flooding and mudslides in Brazil has climbed to at least 665, as the military intensifies its efforts to reach isolated communities near the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Authorities Monday deployed hundreds of emergency personnel to neighborhoods that have been cut off from help by smashed roads and bridges. Heavy rains in recent days sent an avalanche of mud, water and rocks plowing through towns and villages, causing the country's worst natural disaster in decades. The rains dumped the equivalent of a month's precipitation on the affected area in just a few hours.

The disaster is the first big challenge to the government of new President Dilma Rousseff, who took power January 1.

Last week, the president took a helicopter tour of the affected areas. Her government has allocated $460 million in aid for the devastated region. The hardest hit towns have been Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo. Flooding also has affected Petropolis and Sumidouro.

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.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.