Frantic search for dozens missing in Brazil floods

Rescuers in southeastern Brazil scrambled Tuesday to find survivors among dozens of people reported missing after record rainfalls caused flooding and mudslides that killed at least 44 people over the weekend.

Some 680 millimeters (26 inches) of rain -- more than double the expected monthly amount -- fell in 24 hours around the popular beach city of Sao Sebastiao, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) southeast of Sao Paulo.

This was a record downpour, according to the state government.

As the Inmet weather service said rains would continue falling in the region this week, officials raised the official death toll to 44.

"Search and rescue work continues uninterrupted" after raging rivers of mud, stones and trees razed precarious houses built on slopes, according to the office of Sao Paulo's governor.

Authorities said more than 1,730 people had been temporarily evacuated from their homes while at least 760 were left homeless.

Twenty-five people, including six children, were taken to hospital and seven were in a serious condition.

Sao Sebastiao officials set up a tent where a collective wake would be held for victims.

- $6,000 for a helicopter -

Residents with shovels and hoes cleaned mud out of their homes as heavy vehicles passed by outside to collect debris.

Residents of nearby Juquehy, still shaken by the weekend storm, spent another night in anguish when rains caused fresh landslides early Tuesday.

Some 80 people fled their homes but no casualties were reported, according to authorities.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva flew over the holiday zone-turned-disaster area on Monday and warned about the dangers of improvised urban construction.

An estimated 9.5 million of Brazil's 215 million people live in areas at high risk of flooding or landslides -- often in impoverished favelas.

With many roads still blocked by boulders and mud, some vacationers were evacuated by boat as intense helicopter traffic continued to and from the most affected areas.

The authorities urged tourists to leave the coastal areas, and Brazilian media reported that some tourists paid as much as 30,000 reais (almost $6,000) for a helicopter ride out.

"There was no way to go anywhere," said Gabriel Bonavides, who was spending his holiday in a rented house with friends when disaster struck.

"We left the car there and had to return by boat," the 19-year-old law student told AFP.