From: Reuters
Published April 8, 2008 07:09 PM

Brazilian floods kill 34, leave 190,000 homeless

By Julio Villaverde

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Flooding from heavy rains that killed at least 34 people and left 190,000 homeless in Brazil's northeast now threatens to spread disease, authorities said on Tuesday.

The unusually strong rains in recent days washed out roads, tore down bridges and flooded homes across the region.

Crops and livestock throughout the region were destroyed and the government is considering compensation for farmers and ranchers, National Integration Minister Geddel Vieira Lima said.

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President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was born in the poor northeast, has already released 540 million reais ($319 million) on Monday in aid for flood victims.

The semi-arid northeast is dry for much of the year but can receive heavy rains in a short period of time. Due to impermeable soils rains often cause flash floods.

The state of Paraiba was one of the hardest hit, with 25 people killed and 11,800 homeless. Thousands there were forced into make-shift camps, schools and relatives' homes.

Fernando Monteiro, head of civil defense in the state of Piaui, called the situation "a disaster" and said on National Radio it would take at least 3 months for normalcy to return.

Monteiro and other authorities fear the risk of diseases such as dengue fever will rise, as the rains abate and water levels recede, leaving pools for mosquitoes to breed in.

"When there are many families close together, it creates an environment favoring disease," Monteiro said of public camps for the homeless.

A dengue outbreak already killed 68 people and infected 60,000 people in Rio de Janeiro this year.

(Writing by Raymond Colitt, editing by Todd Eastham)

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