Rescuers continue to recover bodies after devastating landslides in Brazil

Rescue teams continued to pull bodies out of the mud on Saturday after devastating landslides triggered by rains in the Brazilian city of Petrópolis, where the death toll rose to 146, including 26 children.

Amid dense fog, rescuers searched for the fifth day for bodies and possible survivors in the rubble and mud.

An AFP photographer confirmed the transfer of two bagged corpses in Alto da Serra, a neighborhood severely affected by the catastrophe, while relatives sobbed in the street.

In the heart of the disaster zone, rescuers occasionally blew their whistles for silence and to listen for signs of life.

But authorities warn there is little hope of finding survivors of Tuesday’s torrential rains, which turned the streets of this picturesque city in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro state into raging rivers.

The rains triggered landslides in the slums on the hillsides, sweeping away virtually everything in their path.

The authorities reported the rescue of 24 people alive, but this was mainly in the first hours after the tragedy.

Rio de Janeiro state police said as of Friday night there were 218 people missing.

Meanwhile, 91 of the 146 bodies recovered so far have been identified.

Many of the missing may be among the still unidentified bodies. But the numbers have been confusing and it’s hard to know how high the death toll could be.

The dead include 26 minors, police said.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who flew over the disaster zone in a helicopter on Friday, said that Petrópolis suffered a "intense destruction, an image almost of war".

Tuesday’s was the latest in a series of deadly storms that have hit Brazil in the last three months and that experts say are worsening with climate change.

The heavy rains left at least 198 dead, mainly in the state of Sao Paulo (southeast) and in the state of Bahia (northeast), as well as in Petrópolis.

"like ants"

The return to normality was slow in Petrópolis, a tourist city that was the summer capital of the Brazilian empire in the 19th century.

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Employees were busily cleaning stores in the city center, where few businesses were open other than essentials like supermarkets and pharmacies.

The owner of a bookstore had to throw an entire stack of bogged down books out into the street. "We had inventory in the basement. filled with water up to the ceiling"said Sandra Correa Neto, 52, hoping that workers, overwhelmed with work, would save her thousands of books.

"We are so sad about all these books. We can’t even donate them, they are very damaged. It hurts"he confessed to AFP.

City officials have set up a new donation collection center on a highway on the outskirts of town in an attempt to lessen the traffic chaos created by swarms of ambulances, heavy machinery and trucks loaded with donated food, water and clothing.

"There has been a very strong current of solidarity, for which we are immensely grateful."said the city’s social assistance secretary, Karol Cerqueira, in a statement.

Elsewhere in the city, relatives wept as rescuers dug through the ruins of a collapsed house, looking for the mother of a family of four. The bodies of the father and two children had already been recovered.

In Alto da Serra, rescue teams in fluorescent orange suits shared the slow progress of the excavations with exhausted neighbors searching for their missing loved ones.

The authorities have warned that the mountain of mud and debris is unstable, so the search is carried out with hand tools and chainsaws in the most difficult to access places.

According to the coordinator of the special rescue group of the local fire department, Roberto Amaral, it would be too risky to bring the bulldozers used near the foot of the slope.

"It’s impossible to bring heavy machinery up here, so basically we have to work like ants, going bit by bit."he told AFP.

Meanwhile, the city’s main cemetery has received 90 victims for burial, 44 of them on Saturday morning alone.

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