The death toll from the floods in Brazil rises to 138, and search operations continue

Rescue workers in Brazil on Saturday found new bodies under mounds of mud in the southeastern city of Petropolis, which was devastated by floods and landslides that killed at least 138 people, including 26 children.

Amidst the thick fog, rescuers continued to search using hand shovels in an attempt to find the missing five days after the disaster.

On Tuesday, heavy rains fell on the city of 300,000 people, located 60 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro, causing mudflows and landslides. The level of rain that fell on Petropolis during the hours exceeded the normal average for the whole month of February.

On Saturday, more than 500 rescuers, along with helicopters, excavators and sniffer dogs, continued the search, despite the dwindling chances of finding survivors.

In the Alto Serra neighborhood, where nearly 80 houses were engulfed by a mudslide, rescuers removed two bodies on Saturday morning, according to an AFP photographer.

As in earthquake relief operations, rescuers from time to time sound a strong whistle to call for silence in the crowd as they try to detect signs of life.

Authorities in the area say the piles of mud and rubble are unstable, so searches are carried out using hand-held equipment.

Since the search began, 24 people have been found alive, but most of them were found in the hours following the disaster, according to the authorities.

The number of the missing is still not final, and the police estimated their number on Friday at 218. But it did not specify whether to include in this total the bodies that have not yet been identified and the people who have been found.

So far, 91 of the 138 bodies found have been identified, 72 victims were buried in the city's main cemetery, and 19 were buried Saturday.

For his part, President Jair Bolsonaro said that what he saw while inspecting the damage from the air on Friday resembled "scenes of war".

And rains in Brazil have killed dozens of people in recent months in the states of Bahia (northeast), Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo (southeast).

Experts attribute the abundance of rain to the phenomenon of "La Niña", the widespread decrease in surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean, and to climate change.

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