Image: People use boards to cross over the water
Vanderlei Almeida  /  AFP - Getty Images
People use boards to cross over the water running along where the main street of Campo Grande neighbourhood used to be, after the devastation caused by the recent landslides of mud and rocks, in Teresopolis, some 100 km from Rio de Janiero, on Sunday. The Brazilian military took advantage of a break in the weather Sunday to send helicopters to remote areas near Rio hit by landslides and flooding that killed at least 610 people.
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updated 1/16/2011 4:50:53 PM ET 2011-01-16T21:50:53

A break in near-constant rain Sunday allowed Brazilian rescue helicopters to deliver desperately needed food and water to some of the neighborhoods buried under tons of earth in mudslides that killed more than 600 people.

Rain clouds lifted, allowing about a dozen helicopters to buzz around the craggy peaks of the emerald-green mountains in this area about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Rio de Janeiro.

"The priority is the rescue of people who are still isolated. We have to take advantage of this break in the weather to help people in these remote, collapsed areas," said Alexandre Aragon, head of the Brazilian National Security Force, which is aiding in the recovery.

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The helicopters were not immediately being used to evacuate people from areas that are still at risk of more mudslides should rains return. Instead, they were concentrating on getting supplies to as many isolated areas as possible to keep people there alive.

The disaster hit in the early morning hours Wednesday, when days of heavy rains unleashed tons of earth, rock and raging torrents of water down steep mountainsides and directly into towns over an area of about 900 square miles (2,330 square kilometers). The known death toll stood at 626 people Sunday. Officials fear it will rise sharply as the remote areas are reached and more bodies found.

Anderson Correia de Oliveira, the local police commander, said there would be no miracle rescues of people buried under the mudslides after four days.

"There are no hopes of finding anybody alive," he said. "It's not like an earthquake — people trapped under things have been drowned. There are no air pockets."

Desperate survivors have complained of receiving no help and Brazil's government at all levels has come under criticism for the lack of speed in helping the victims.

But Oliveira and other officials said that reaching the most remote and desperate areas was impossible by helicopter until Sunday. The area hit by the slides is full of steep mountains with jagged peaks, making navigation challenging even in good weather, he said. With clouds that hovered well below the mountaintops for days, helicopters could not be used.

That has meant people have simply had to save themselves, mostly by hiking miles (kilometers) from their neighborhoods down to the center of Teresopolis to fetch supplies.

For days, slow streams of wet, muddy men and women, some in their bare feet, have tied supermarket bags together and slung them over their shoulders to carry basic provisions to those too frail to make the treacherous hike down to the city.

Many residents seemed resigned to getting little real help — and to staying in the dangerous neighborhoods that are under constant threat of future slides.

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In the hard-hit Cascata do Imbui neighborhood high above downtown Teresopolis, Maria de Jesus Correia, 50, said she watched the water and mud that killed many of her neighbors wash right by her house, and she heard their screams. But she continues to live in the small home carved into the hillside, caring for her three grandchildren.

She lives there for free — her husband is the caretaker for the ranch farther up the hill, and she cleans the landlord's home. They can't afford to pay rent elsewhere, and she doesn't like the prospect of sleeping on foam mattresses on the floor in a shelter with her grandchildren.

"What was supposed to happen has already happened," she said. "I am not leaving. Am I going to take my grandchildren to a shelter? It's a horror down there."

President Dilma Rousseff designated $60 million in aid for the state of Rio de Janeiro and the hardest-hit towns. The minister of national integration, Fernando Bezerra, said half the money would be in state and municipal accounts by Monday — six days after the disaster struck.

Rio state's Civil Defense department said on its website Sunday that 268 people were killed in Teresopolis and 283 in Nova Friburgo, a 45-mile (75-kilometer) drive to the west. Fifty-six died in neighboring Petropolis and 19 in the town of Sumidouro.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Mudslides in Brazil kill hundreds

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  1. A car, dragged inside a church by a mudslide, is seen in Nova Friburgo, Brazil on Friday, Jan. 21. Brazil will create a nationwide disaster-prevention and early-warning system following recent floods and landslides that killed more than 750 people in mountain towns north of Rio de Janeiro, government officials said Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A resident comes down a house destroyed by a landslides, in Nova Friburgo on Thursday, Jan. 20. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A dog from K9 de Creixell, a Spanish organization, searches for landslide victims in a damaged home in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 20. Deaths from last week's mudslides rose to at least 727 and have left thousands homeless. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A girl receives a container of potable water from a soldier in the landslide-affected Alto Floresta neighborhood in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, on Wednesday, Jan. 19. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Residents salvage items from their homes after a landslide in the Alto Floresta neighborhood of Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 19. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Red Cross volunteers stack donated clothes at a relief center in Teresopolis, state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday, Jan 19. Brazilian officials began moving thousands of people out of at-risk areas near Rio in a flooding disaster that has already left at least 727 people dead. Ten teams of civil defense and environment officials were evacuating residents in outlying areas of Nova Friburgo, the hardest-hit town, said their commander, Colonel Roberto Robadey. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Brazilian National Force rescue workers carry the body of a boy on the scene of a recent landslide, where seven people were found buried among debris in the neighbourhood of Jardilandia, in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, on Jan. 19. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Residents of Sumidouro, one of the mudslide-hit towns north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, unload supplies from a navy helicopter on Tuesday, Jan. 18. Brazil has sent around 700 troops to help areas desperate for aid. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A man cleans up at a fabric store in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Severely eroded portions of mountains are seen Monday near Nova Friburgo, where dozens died. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman cries while holding her newborn baby after being rescued by helicopter from an isolated area near Petropolis on Monday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A house remains standing on Monday even though the rest of the hillside in a rural area north of Rio de Janeiro collapsed. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A few of the thousands of landslide victims rest at a shelter on Monday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Damage to a road near the town of Nova Friburgo is seen Monday. Dozens of people died in the town. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Editor's note:
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    Rescue workers and residents of Nova Friburgo recover the body of a young landslide victim on Monday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Gravediggers carry the coffin of a victim at a cemetery in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Isaura Martin dos Santos waits for medical attention at a hospital in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rescue workers search for victims after a landslide in Nova Friburgo on Sunday. (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Paulo Rodrigues da Silva, left, reacts as he embraces a relative he found at a shelter for people displaced by landslides in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Rescue workers climb on a helicopter after searching for survivors and victims in an area affected by a landslide near Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. People affected by recent landslides of mud and rock in Teresopolis, Brazil, receive drinking water on Jan. 16. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Ludmila Moura, 5, sits on a mattress at a shelter for people displaced by landslides in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. Ludmila was pulled out of her destroyed house by her father, Marcelo Moura, on the first night of heavy rains last Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Residents flee the Campo Grande neighborhood after the area was devastated by recent landslides of mud and rock, in Teresopolis, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A dog, "Leao", sits for a second consecutive day, next to the grave of her owner, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana, who died in the week's catastrophic landslides in Brazil, at the cemetery in Teresopolis, near Rio de Janiero, on Jan. 15. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Local residents look at partially buried vehicles in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Saturday, Jan. 15, after heavy rains hit Rio de Janeiro for several days. More than 500 people have died due to floods. (Antonio Lecedra / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A resident is reflected in a mirror at a destroyed house in Teresopolis, Brazil, Saturday, Jan. 15. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A house is buried in an area affected by mudslides in Floresta in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 14. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A woman is helped by residents after being rescued from a landslide in Teresopolis, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 14. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Residents stand on safe ground after a landslide in Teresopolis, Friday, Jan. 14. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. People mourn during the burial of a landslide victim in Teresopolis, Friday, Jan. 14. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. An aerial view of a neighborhood partially destroyed by a landslide caused by heavy rains in Nova Friburgo, Jan. 13. Rescue workers dug desperately for survivors on Thursday and struggled to reach areas cut off by raging floods and landslides that have killed hundreds of people in one of Brazil's worst natural disasters in decades. (Shana Reis  / Government of Rio via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A nurse receives medical attention after fainting in front of the police station in which several bodies are being counted after the heavy rains in Teresópolis, Jan. 13. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. People bury victims of a landslide in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. 6-month old baby Nicolas Guimaraes s rescued from the wreckage caused by a mudslide in Nova Friburgo, January 12. (Marcus Vini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Rescue team works in the zone affected by a landslide after heavy rains in the city of Nueva Friburgo, Jan. 13. (Jadson Marques / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Roberta Machado Correia, who survived a landslide, attends the burial of a friend in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Rescue workers remove a live rabbit as they search for survivors inside a home destroyed by a landslide in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A church sits surrounded by debris Wednesday, Jan. 12, after a mudslide hit this area of Teresopolis, Brazil. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Flooded areas Wednesday included this street in Franco da Rocha. (Paulo Whitaker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Areas ripped away by slides are seen Wednesday in Teresopolis. (Fabio Motta / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Rescue workers search for victims Wednesday in a low-income neighborhood of Teresopolis. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Damage in Teresopolis is seen on Wednesday. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Debris lines this street Thursday in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. People stand on the porch of their home in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis on Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Cars like this one in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis littered the mudslide areas on Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Rescue workers remove debris in their search for victims in Teresopolis on Wednesday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Rain continued Thursday as destruction lined the roads of towns like Teresopolis. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Debris is seen Wednesday in the city of Nova Frigurgo, one of the hardest hit areas. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Editor's note:
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    A man reacts as he walks close to bodies among the debris in Teresopolis on Wednesday. (Roberto Ferreira / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. A victim is rescued Wednesday in Teresopolis. (Marino Azevedo / Handout via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Survivors take refuge in a gymnasium in Teresopolis on Thursday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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