Image: Residents carrying food
Patrick Rodrigues  /  AP
Residents, carrying food, wade through a flooded street in Itajai, state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, Tuesday. Rescue workers desperately digging through the wreckage of homes found more bodies, raising the death toll to 84.
updated 11/25/2008 8:29:02 PM ET 2008-11-26T01:29:02

Rescue workers found dozens of bodies Tuesday as they dug desperately through the wreckage of homes engulfed by mudslides in southern Brazil, boosting the death toll from rain-spawned hillside collapses and floods to 84.

As many as 30 people still were missing in small cities and towns across Santa Catarina state, where torrential weekend rains dumped as much water as the area usually gets in four months and far surpassed records going back to 1961.

Helicopters rescued at least 300 residents in Santa Catarina's Itajai river valley who were surrounded by water. Television images showed one family on a grassy hill holding a bedsheet scrawled with the worlds "Sick Child" in a plea for help as a helicopter hovered overhead.

Most of the dead were killed in mudslides that swept away homes and businesses, and more than 54,000 were displaced, civil defense officials said in a statement. On Tuesday alone, the death toll rose sharply when officials reported the discovery of 25 more bodies.

Survivors running short of water, fuel
Olinda de Oliveria, retired and in her 60s, cried as she recounted how her dream home in one of the most devastated areas was destroyed by a mudslide.

"It was a nice house, with a garden, electronic gate and everything," she told Brazil's Globo TV. "But now you don't see anything good, you don't see anything."

Eight municipalities with nearly 100,000 residents remained isolated and were running short of everything from drinking water to medicine and fuel.

Business and industry was largely paralyzed across much of Santa Catarina because one of the mudslides ruptured a pipeline that supplies natural gas from Bolivia, an essential fuel here for cooking, cars and Brazilian factories. Six large textile mills shut down as a result, Brazil's Valor Economico business newspaper reported.

Officials said it could take three weeks to repair the pipeline break in a remote area, Globo TV said, and the rupture also interrupted the flow of natural gas to the neighboring state of Rio Grande do Sul that borders Argentina and Uruguay.

Highways blocked by mudslides
Seventeen highways were blocked by mudslides. Officials said it could take days to reopen several that were piled high with earth and trees.

Hardest hit was the city of Blumenau, where 20 people died when they were buried by mudslides. Another 15 people suffered serious injuries, according to the civil defense statement.

Half the city of nearly 300,000 had no electricity, and 500 soldiers were sent in to help in the renowned tourist destination.

Fifteen people died in the nearby town of Ilhota along the banks of the Itajai River, where waters rose 9 meters (30 feet) above normal.

Reports of scattered looting at supermarkets and drug stores also emerged Tuesday, according to Globo TV's G1 Web site.

"They're not always taking food. In some places, they're taking alcoholic drinks and cigarettes," firefighter Samuel Martins told G1 from the city of Itajai, where two people died. "A lot of profiteers end up blending in with those who really need it."

Floodwaters extended for miles through the city's streets and into adjacent fields.

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