RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - At least 200 people were buried and feared dead under the latest landslide to hit a slum in Rio de Janeiro's metropolitan area, authorities said Thursday.
If confirmed, the deaths would raise the toll sharply from the 153 people already known to have perished in slides this week triggered by record rains.
Pedro Machado, subsecretary of Rio state's Civil Defense department, told Globo TV that as many as 60 houses and 200 people were buried in the Morro Bumba slum in Niteroi, neighboring Rio.
"In our experience, it's an instant death" for those caught in their homes at the time, Machado said.
Machado said the shantytown was built on a mountain of trash that accumulated for decades, making the ground there unstable and vulnerable to giving way.
"When I climbed atop the hill, the smell was very strange, bad," Machado said.
A fire department spokesman said six bodies had been found so far in the Morro Bumba and 28 were rescued after the mudslide hit late Wednesday.
Alves Souza, commander of the firefighters in the Niteroi rescue operations, said the wet, steep terrain posed a continued threat to anyone trapped in the wreckage and emergency crews alike.
"We have managed to recover two bodies and the work is very intense, given the fact that the volume of material we have here is very large," Souza said.
Record rainfall since Monday afternoon has triggered deadly mudslides across Rio's metropolitan area.
Firefighters said the official death toll stands at 153, but that does not include those buried in Morro Bumba.
Nearly all the deaths occurred in mudslides that smashed through slums - yet another reminder that life in one of the world's most famous playgrounds is much different for the poor than it is for the rich.