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Fresh rain hampers Brazil rescue, death toll rises

Effort on to save Brazilian animals after floods
Brasilia (AFP) Jan 16, 2011 - Animal rights groups and veterinarians have launched a campaign to save animals affected by Brazil's devastating floods and landslides, which have killed more than 625 people, organizers said Sunday. The effort will consist of "a team that specializes in rescuing animals in major disasters arriving from Costa Rica, (and) another group of veterinarians that works with injured animals" including dogs, cats, and horses, veterinarian Margarida de Oliveria told AFP. She said a field hospital would be set up in the affected region on Monday. Specialists from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), who worked in Haiti after last year's earthquake, are also coordinating efforts out of nearby Rio de Janeiro.

"We know there are many animals living in deplorable situations... abandoned without food, and with injuries. We know the priority is to save lives of humans, but we will not abandon them," WSPA member Solange Ribeiro said. A photo that has gone viral on the internet in recent days, by AFP photographer Vanderlei Almedia, shows a dog named Leao -- which means "Lion" in English -- sitting patiently for a second straight day next to the grave of her owner, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana, who died in the catastrophic landslides. The Brazilian military meanwhile Sunday was sending troops and helicopters to rescue stranded survivors in the mountains near Rio de Janeiro, but the operation was still being stymied by more bad weather.

Tree disease threatens British forests
London (UPI) Jan 16, 2011 - Britain's at war with a tree disease threatening the country's forests on a scale not seen since Dutch elm disease wiped out million of trees, officials say. Sudden oak death, Phytophthora ramorum, has affected almost 7,500 acres of forest in Wales, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Northern Ireland, The Observer reported Sunday. Authorities have embarked on a program to fell thousands of trees in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. The disease was named in the United States where it killed millions of oak trees in California. It was unknown in the United Kingdom until it was detected in imported shrubs in a Sussex nursery in 2002, the Observer said.

First showing up in British oak trees, the disease has jumped species and is now affecting commercially important Japanese and European larch trees as well as several conifer species including Douglas fir, experts say. "The disease took us by surprise when it jumped species, and we don't understand why it's not in other species yet," Roddie Burgess of the Forestry Commission said. "Dealing with an organism that can do that, well, who knows where it will go next?" "We know it's performing differently in this country to the way it performed in the United States, so it's unlikely this strain has come over from there; it's far more likely to have been imported from Asia, perhaps via Europe," Burgess said. "I think we can forget eradicating it; we have to work with nature and we're going to have to live with it. The question is whether or not we're lucky and have a fighting chance at containing it."
by Staff Writers
Nova Friburgo, Brazil (AFP) Jan 16, 2011
The Brazilian military sent troops and helicopters Sunday to rescue stranded survivors of floods and landslides that killed more than 625 people but the operation was stymied by more bad weather.

After rains resumed in the afternoon, the air force had to call back helicopters that had been sent as a lifeline to 80 people stranded since Wednesday in the village of Brejal, in the mountains near Rio de Janeiro, a spokesman said.

"The weather conditions do not permit us to advance in the rural areas and to help people who are isolated," said Rio firefighter Colonel Pedro Machado. "We can only make short flights. The teams on the ground are also having a lot of difficulty."

The military had hoped to evacuate people in hamlets cut off by rivers of water and mud that carved massive destruction in the Serrana region just north of Rio de Janeiro.

Bodies that were buried under rubble and sludge would have to wait until teams with heavy equipment could get to the communities, something that could take days because roads were destroyed.

Soldiers, civil defense workers, police and rangers were seen gathering in Nova Friburgo, reinforcing teams that so far have pulled 283 bodies from decimated parts of the town.

General Oswaldo de Jesus Ferreira, coordinating the military response, told O Globo newspaper that the 500 troops sent to the Serrana would not only recover bodies but also clear roads and distribute food.

The military had 38 vehicles, including two ambulances, and 11 helicopters based out of Teresopolis, another hard-hit town where 268 people died.

Although the toll Sunday stood at 626 dead, workers transporting bodies said they feared the overall count will rise as rescuers reached outlying hamlets.

"I think in the end we'll see more than 1,000 bodies," said a funeral worker in Teresopolis, Mauricio Berlim. "In one village near here, Campo Grande, there were 2,500 homes and not one is left standing."

President Dilma Rousseff has declared three days of mourning, while Rio authorities said their state will observe a full week of mourning starting Monday.

At least 14,000 people have been made homeless, officials said, and Rio governor Sergio Cabral declared a state of emergency in seven municipalities.

Authorities made an urgent appeal for donations of blood, bottled water, food and medicine, and for medically trained people to help.

At least four refrigerated trucks were parked in front of a makeshift morgue inside a Teresopolis church to take bodies as decomposition and disease became concerns.

The disaster, which media called the worst tragedy of its kind in Brazil's history, struck sleeping families Wednesday before dawn.

Seasonally heavy rains were suddenly intensified by a cold front, dumping a month's worth of precipitation in just eight hours, causing torrents of water and mud that wiped out everything in their path.

Water, food and electricity were still lacking in some areas of the Serrana four days after the disaster, with authorities struggling to deliver supplies over fully or partially collapsed roads. Telephone communications were unreliable though progressively being restored.

A municipal official in Teresopolis, Solange Sirico, told Brazilian television there was a risk of epidemics breaking out as bodies decomposing in the tropical heat mingled with water runoff.

"Also, in all the mountain region, there is a danger of snakes, scorpions and spiders," she added.

Forecasters warned that the wet weather was likely to last for a few more days.

"We are predicting a light but steady rain, which is not good because it could lay the conditions for more landslides," said the head of the national weather institute, Luiz Cavalcanti.

Originally a 19th-century getaway for Brazilian aristocracy, the Serrana region has come to rely on tourism for its livelihood.

Nova Friburgo, founded by the Swiss in 1819, has ongoing close ties with Geneva, where the foreign ministry said a team of expert relief workers would arrive later Sunday to assess the community's urgent needs.

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