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Brazil rains leave 19 dead, 186,000 homeless

Months of heavy downpours in north cause widespread flooding, mudslides

Image: Boats transport people along flooded streets in northern Brazil.
Rivers in northern Brazil, such as the Tocantins shown here, have overflowed their banks, swamping homes and forcing residents to live with relatives.
Paulo Whitaker / Reuters
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updated 9:14 p.m. ET May 5, 2009

SAO PAULO - Floods and mudslides from heavy rains in northern Brazil have driven more than 186,000 from their homes and killed 19 people, officials said Tuesday.

Television images showed the rooftops of houses poking out of inundated towns and people using boats to move around in their cities. Mudslides swamped homes and forced residents to live with relatives and pack into emergency shelters.

Seven states have been affected by the rains, which have battered the region for the past months, regional civil defense departments said.

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Globo's G1 Web site reported three more people died in a mudslide in Bahia state, but authorities did not immediately confirm the deaths.

Maranhao state's civil defense official Abner Ferreira said six major highways have been shut down in the state, cutting off thousands of people.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva flew over the hardest-hit areas delivering food baskets to shelters.

"We need to look more seriously into the climate situation these days," said Silva. "Something is changing and we still have time to fix it."

The Brazilian health ministry said it would send 265,000 doses of several types of medicine to Maranhao to aid the flood victims.

Ferreira said meteorologists forecast at least another two more weeks of heavy rains in northern Brazil.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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