PETROPOLIS, Brazil — President Fernando Henrique Cardoso toured neighborhoods in eastern Brazil destroyed by mudslides and floods that killed at least 50 people in Rio de Janeiro state.
"I’m heartbroken," Cardoso was heard telling his aides in the hard-hit Petropolis district of Quintandinha, where 18 people were killed.
Three days of torrential rains earlier this week left low-lying regions near Rio under water and tore away hillsides, burying houses and residents under mud. Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes.
Rescue workers armed with hoes and shovels dug through the thick, red mud in hopes of finding survivors.
But Col. Jorge Lopes of the Rio de Janeiro state Civil Defense Department said the "chances of finding someone alive under so much mud are, at best, slim."
Worst-hit was the mountain city of Petropolis, 40 miles north of Rio, where 35 bodies were pulled from the mud. Most were from poor neighborhoods perched precariously on hillsides.
At least 30 people were still unaccounted for Thursday, and about 1,800 others were forced to flee their homes, the state civil defense department said. Many sought shelter in churches, schools and other public buildings.
Jose Bruno Soares recalled the day he saw an avalanche of mud heading toward him.
"On the day before Christmas, I was standing on my porch when the ground started shaking and I heard a loud rumbling noise," Soares said as he cleaned the mud from what used to be his front porch. "I looked behind me and saw a huge river of mud coming toward me, but it luckily swerved away and only damaged part of my porch."
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