RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Isolated towns in southern Brazil appealed for medicine and other supplies on Tuesday as the deaths from landslides rose to 72 and thousands of people remained cut off from aid, clean water and power.
Days of heavy rain have devastated areas of Santa Catarina state, the heartland of German and Italian immigrants in Brazil, burying houses and their residents in rivers of mud, collapsing roads and forcing 53,900 people out of their homes.
Another 30 people were missing and eight areas remained completely cut off, the civil defense agency said, as medicine, food, and other basic supplies began to arrive from the federal government and neighboring states.
"We had a tsunami of clay, mud and trees," seamstress Josiane Malmann told Globo TV after being rescued by helicopter with a group of 200 people who were trapped in Ilhota, the town with the worst death toll so far, of 15.
"Many people and children died ... The hills all fell in an avalanche."
Five hundred army troops were sent to Blumenau, famous for its annual Oktoberfest beer festival, where 13 people were killed by landslides and where drinking water was expected to be cut off until Friday.
"Mattresses, food, blankets -- these are the main necessities we need to look after our displaced people," said Joao Paulo Kleinubing, the town mayor.
"There is still a risk of landslides if it rains again so we are telling people in risky areas to leave their houses and seek shelter."
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has offered all available federal help to the state, one of Brazil's wealthiest, and sent several ministers to the affected areas to assess their needs on Tuesday.
The civil defense agency said that 55,000 liters (14,500 gallons) of drinking water had been distributed but appealed for more donations of water as the most urgent priority.
Blumenau was one of five towns to declare a state of emergency in the Itajai valley, the worst affected area in the state whose main river rose 11 meters (36 feet) and swept away its banks.
The state government said the floods and mudslides had affected 1.5 million people, leaving about 150,000 without electricity.
Rescue workers and army troops were using helicopters and motor boats to reach stranded residents, with transport in the state paralyzed as many main roads were cut off.
"Not even tractors can reach these areas because they sink, so access is only possible with aircraft," said Major Marcio Alves, a coordinator with the Civil Defense agency.
Television footage showed hillsides breaking away and sliding into rivers of mud, while another mudslide destroyed a house in seconds. A lane of one main road was shown collapsed after its earth foundations crumbled.
Almost all the deaths were caused by landslides.
"My son is lost, we don't know whether he's alive or dead," one man, identified as Mario, told Globo News before breaking down in sobs.
The floods also shut down a branch of a pipeline carrying natural gas from Bolivia to Brazil on Monday, cutting off supplies to Santa Catarina and neighboring Rio Grande do Sul state, the company that operates the line said.
The first deaths were reported on Saturday after two days of heavy downpours and weeks of steady rain.
The Latin American country is in spring season when rains in the southern part of the country are at their heaviest.
(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca)
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