Brazil Tallies Destruction In Deadly Floods

In Brazil, officials are tallying the dead and missing after last week's floods and mudslides. Nearly 800 people have died. Host Melissa Block speaks with Associated Press reporter Juliana Barbassa in Rio de Janeiro, who recently returned from the hardest-hit area, north of Rio.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Brazil, officials are tallying the dead and missing after last week's floods and mudslides. Nearly 800 people have died; 400 more are registered as missing. It's one of the deadliest disasters on record for Brazil.

Associated Press reporter Juliana Barbassa is in Rio de Janeiro. She returned yesterday from the hardest-hit areas north of Rio. And, Juliana, you went to the town of Teresopolis. You got a view from the air. Tell us what these mudslides looked like from above.

Ms. JULIANA BARBASSA (Reporter, Associated Press): From the air, you could really see the scope of the devastation. It wasn't one or five. It was dozens of slides, smaller, larger, rolling green hills, just scarred by these rusty-red strips torn in by the rain.

BLOCK: Once you got into the villages and started talking to the people who survived these mudslides, what did they tell you? What did you see there?

Ms. BARBASSA: So much desperation, so much loss. People whose entire worlds have been reshaped by this. The communities they grew up and everyone they knew, their neighbors, their family members, a lot of these families live next door to each other, brothers and sisters and their kids, all of it wiped away.

It's very hard to describe what it's like to talk to people who have suffered this kind of loss. One man I talked to lost 23 of his relatives - his wife, his 2-year-old son, his father, and he was one of the ones I met who was spending his days ferrying supplies to people who were still alive and unable to get out. It's hard to describe what that looks like other than to say just there's utter desperation.

BLOCK: What were people telling you about government rescue and relief efforts? How hard has it been to get rescue operations going to these areas?

Ms. BARBASSA: It was very challenging in the first couple of days, in particular, to get official help. Roads were wiped out. Bridges were wiped out. The terrain is very, very steep. Helicopters couldn't reach many of these areas because of the constant rain, the wind, the fog. It was unfortunately very delayed.

BLOCK: Juliana, who lives in this area? It's about 40 miles north of Rio.

Ms. BARBASSA: It's a mixture of well-to-do residents of Rio, have weekend homes there. It's a mountainous area, but it's much cooler than the city. It's also a very agricultural area. They supply a lot of the fruits and vegetables to Rio de Janeiro, to the city. There are a lot of agricultural workers, a lot of ranches. You could see from the helicopter farms with horse barns and the horses loose in the pasture, as well as tiny homes stacked along these very steep hillsides.

BLOCK: Are there places now that were hit by these mudslides that relief workers just haven't been able to get to, where the scale of the damage and the death is just not known?

Ms. BARBASSA: There are still places where it's still unclear how many people have been buried. In so many cases, whole families were buried. Nobody has come out yet to say they're missing. So it's surprising that so many days after the storm, people still wouldn't know exactly how many people are missing, exactly how many people are dead.

But, again, if you saw the footage from the air and you saw how many of these happened, you can understand it will be a while before we really understand even how many people died.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Associated Press reporter Juliana Barbassa about the mudslides and flooding in Brazil, north of Rio. Juliana, thanks very much.

Ms. BARBASSA: Thank you.

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