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Last Updated: Monday, 8 January 2007, 22:57 GMT
Heavy rains kill dozens in Brazil
By Tim Hirsch
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Mudslide, Rio de Janeiro state
Most of the deaths have been in shantytowns in hilly areas
Communities across southeastern Brazil have declared a state of emergency as torrential rain continues to cause extensive damage in the region.

At least 50 people are reported to have died, more than half of them in the state of Rio de Janeiro, since the beginning of the year.

Tens of thousands have been left homeless by floods and landslides.

Southeast Brazil has experienced almost continuous heavy downpours and thunderstorms since the new year.

The worst affected areas have been the mountainous state of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro on the coast, where 29 people have reportedly been killed in the past week.

Many of the deaths have been caused by mudslides and the collapse of poorly-built homes on the steep hillsides.

Brazil's main coastal highway was blocked when a bridge collapsed and at least two people were struck by lightning.

The governor of Rio state, Sergio Cabral, is appealing for federal aid to help the worst-affected municipalities, 12 of which have declared an official state of emergency.

In Rio alone at least 16,000 people are thought to have been left homeless.

The exceptionally heavy rain has been provoked by a combination of tropical air from the Amazon and a cold front on the Atlantic coast.

The conditions are expected to continue until at least the end of the week.

The widespread devastation caused by the floods

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