RIO DE JANEIRO -- Scattered rains continued to punish this coastal city today, while more than 3,000 police, firemen and soldiers worked around the clock to rescue victims still under tons of mud, rock and debris dislodged from Rio's spectacular hillsides in a torrential weekend downpour.
That rain, the heaviest here in 22 years, has claimed at least 76 lives since Friday, but officials fear many more bodies could still lie in collapsed buildings. Thousands of injured jammed the city's hospital and the muncipal civil defense department said up to 11,000 residents had lost their houses.
The favelas, the gravity-defying shantytowns of mud and clapboard that cling precariously to steep mountain slopes, suffered the most. They harbor more than 1 million of this city's 8 million residents.
Three weeks of intense rains have pounded diverse regions in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Earlier this month, rains devastated the mountain town of Petropolis, Brazil's old summer capital during the Portuguese monarchy, and flooded a poor lowland suburb.
Since Feb. 2, floods and avalanches have left 263 persons confirmed dead and another 25,000 homeless in the state, which is smaller than West Virginia but has a population of 12 million. Leptospirosis, provoked by a parasite that flourishes in contaminated waters, has infected 142 people, killing six, in low-lying areas.
Rio Mayor Roberto Saturnino Braga first declared a state of emergency, upping it yesterday to one of "public calamity" and calling in the Army to aid in salvage operations. "It's as if the city had been destroyed by a giant," he said after a helicopter flight over the region.
The disaster also brought forth an outpouring of generosity, as neighbor aided neighbor bail out flooding living rooms and haul furniture and refrigerators to safety. In answer to the government's appeals, residents from all over the city donated blankets, clothes, diapers, medicine, and mattresses.
Civil engineers have condemned hundreds of houses stricken in the favelas. Rivers of mud ripped down the center of sprawling Rocinha, South America's largest shantytown, with 100,000 residents.
After more than three days of digging, firemen removed 10 corpses from a collapsed hospital for the elderly, in the shadow of Rio's famous monument to Christ the Redeemer.
As the stunned city dug out, there was growing sentiment that this was not merely a natural disaster, but also one brought on by "the irresponsibility of a succession of governments," as the prestigious Jornal do Brasil newspaper put it.
The chaotic expansion of shantytowns and irregular construction have chewed away vegetation and made a post-card resort chronically vulnerable to the elements.