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Thousands missing and homeless as deadly floods batter Brazil

Thirty-nine people have died, more than 1,000 are missing and 400,000 are homeless after deadly floods hit Brazil.Officials fear the death toll may rise as days of heavy rain caused flooding that has punished the north eastern states of Pernambuco and Alagoas, causing rivers to burst their banks and leaving entire towns submerged.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is holding crisis talks with the cabinet today and yesterday met local officials to discuss the relief effort. He promised that the government would make emergency funds available to help the homeless.In Alagoas, more than 1,000 people are missing while 500 people are unaccounted for in the town of Uniao dos Palmares in Alagoas alone."Until the early afternoon we had 26 confirmed dead in Alagoas state and more than 1,000 people missing," Alagoas Governor Teotonio Vilela Filho told the official Agencia Brasil news agency."We are praying for the missing to be found alive. But we are very worried because bodies are starting to turn up on beaches and on riverbanks," Vilela added.

Officials in Alagoas state said the Mundau River burst its banks in the town of Uniao dos Palmares, leaving at least 500 people missing there. The floodwaters washed away more than 40,000 houses, bridges, streets and rail lines in 22 towns across Alagoas, Vilela said. Entire towns on the banks of the Mundau in Alagoas were ‘wiped off the map,’ firefighters told Agence France Presse news service, while others were badly damaged or cut off by floodwaters. And thousands of people have fled Quebrangulo town in Alagoas which was said to be 80 per cent under water.

More than 1,000 miles of roads have been swept away by the rains, said the BBC, making it harder to deliver aid to the affected areas. Helped by the army and navy, rescue teams have been using helicopters to airlift people out to safety. Two field hospitals are being set up in the towns of Jacuipe and Santana do Mundau, in Alagoas. And an Air Force plane full of supplies will be sent to the region.

In 2009, flooding killed at least 44 people and uprooted hundreds of thousands in the same area. Brazil has Latin America's largest economy; but millions live in poverty. The north east is Brazil's poorest region. There the rates of child deaths are double the national average and reach levels similar to those in many parts of Africa and India, according to the New Internationalist magazine.

Hayley attribution