updated 12/4/2009 4:42:11 PM ET 2009-12-04T21:42:11

At least 20 people have died in mudslides triggered by heavy rains across southern Brazil as rivers rose to rooftops and thousands were left homeless Friday.

Streets in South America's largest city, Sao Paulo, flooded with chest-high waters, paralyzing late afternoon traffic and shutting down airports Thursday, when the rains started.

At least six deaths — including four children — were reported in Sao Paulo's metropolitan area, all caused when mudslides descended on the rickety shacks in shantytowns.

A statement from Sao Paulo's civil defense department said two people were still missing in the city.

Six deaths were reported elsewhere in Sao Paulo state.

Television footage showed Sao Paulo firefighters using heavy equipment while dozens of residents furiously dug through mud with shovels through the night, trying to recover bodies and search for the missing.

On Brazil's southern borders with Uruguay and Argentina, Rio Grande do Sul state reported at least eight people were killed in mudslides and about 18,000 people were forced from their homes.

More than 130 cities in Rio Grande do Sul declared a state of emergency and rivers were swollen 30 feet above normal levels.

Rio de Janeiro saw lighter rains and no deaths were reported as of Friday afternoon. But at least seven neighborhoods — mostly in the richer southern areas of the city — were left without electricity for hours before it was restored Friday.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,