Brazil has declared three days of national mourning for at least 610 people killed near Rio de Janeiro this week in the country’s worst flood disaster on record.
Emergency workers in the disaster zone, in the Serrana region just north of Rio, were overwhelmed by the body count, with refrigerator trucks brought in to store corpses.
Workers transporting bodies said they feared the overall death toll could top 1,000 as rescuers reached outlying hamlets.
While president Dilma Rousseff declared the three days of mourning, Rio de Janeiro state authorities said their state will observe a full week of mourning starting Monday.
As of late Saturday, the death toll stood at 610 people, with the worst-hit towns being Teresopolis, Nova Friburgo and Petropolis, civil defence officials said. Outlying villages also reported deaths.
An estimated 14,000 people were assisted by rescue workers or lost their homes in the Serrana region, about 100 kilometres from coastal Rio, civil defence figures showed.
The single hardest hit town was Nova Friburgo, where 274 people were killed. Nearby Teresopolis had 263 dead, while 55 were killed in Petropolis and 18 lost their lives in Sumidouro, officials said.
Authorities also made an urgent appeal for donations of blood, bottled water, food and medicine.
At the town’s cemetery, a dog curled up at the grave site of his mistress, a woman named Cristina Maria de Santana, refusing to leave even though she had been buried two days earlier, workers said.
Meanwhile body recovery efforts have been hampered by tonnes of mud that, in some cases, have cut villages off and made them accessible only by helicopter.
But flights have been limited by persistent rain that hindered visibility in the rough terrain to just a couple hundred metres.
At least a dozen remote hamlets remained out of touch, and one witness reported seeing a group of people buried in their car by a river of reddish mud.
Water, food and electricity are lacking in some areas of the Serrana, with authorities struggling to deliver supplies over fully or partially collapsed roads. Telephone communications are unreliable, though progressively being restored.