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Help in short supply after deadly Brazil mudslides

TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) — Fernando Perfista dug out the body of his eldest child from the mud, then searched for the 12-year-old’s three siblings. He sheltered the boy’s remains in a refrigerator to keep dogs at bay.

Unable to find the others, the 31-year-old ranch hand built a gurney of scrap wood, carried his son’s body down a mudslide-wrecked mountain slope before dawn Friday and buried him in a homemade coffin.

Then he waited with a crowd in the rain outside the Teresopolis morgue for a chance to plead with officials for help him continue his search. He clutched plastic-covered pictures of his three other children: a chubby 1-year-old and two smiling girls, ages 6 and 10.

“My children are in there, in that river bank, under that mud,” he said blankly.

Survivors of mudslides that killed at least 537 people in a mountainous area north of Rio de Janeiro streamed into the center of Teresopolis on Friday, pleading for their loved ones to be rescued, or for their bodies to be recovered. Many were disheartened by the response. Rescuers resumed efforts after morning rains, but Perfista and others said there clearly was not enough manpower or resources.

Amauri Souza, a 38-year-old who helped Perfista carry his son’s body, said a few helicopters are reaching remote areas, but “they’re only taking down the wounded.” He said officials were not dropping off body bags, food or water, and that he feared the consequences if aid did not arrive soon.

“The water is rotten, but people are forced to drink it. There is no food. I had meat in my house, but it’s all gone bad,” Souza said.

He said he pulled his wife and 6-month-old daughter onto higher ground just as the avalanche of water, mud and stone hit early Wednesday. But his wife’s parents were lost — he heard their screams for help as they washed away. Their bodies hadn’t been found Friday.

“It’s a scene of war and total loss,” he said of the Fazenda Alpina area of Teresopolis. “I heard my friends screaming for help in the night.”

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