More than 500 dead, thousands homeless in flood-ravaged Brazil

THE death toll in Brazil's devastating floods has reached more than 500 as police warned that the number of fatalities will continue to rise as disease and infections take hold.

Heavy rain has led to massive mudslides hitting several towns, resulting in thousands being made homeless, in the worst natural disaster to hit Latin America's biggest nation in four decades.

Grieving survivors carried the bodies of loved ones for hours down washed-out mountain sides as the death toll hit 514. They told of entire neighbourhoods being destroyed and pleaded for food and water to reach those still isolated.

Officials said the death toll in four towns north of Rio de Janeiro was still rising and could jump further once rescuers reach areas cut off by Wednesday's slides. They refused to estimate how many remain missing, but local reports put it in the hundreds.

After morning rains caused delays, rescuers resumed their efforts. But the rescue effort had yet to reach many in Teresopolis, a mountain city of 163,000 alongside a national park that hosts a major training site for Brazil's national football team.

It holds ornate weekend homes where the wealthy of Rio escape the summer heat to enjoy horse- riding and rock climbing, as well as brick or wood houses built by the poor on denuded land.

It is the worst natural disaster to hit the country since flooding and slides in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states killed 785 people in 1967, according to the Brussels-based International Disaster Database, which has records of deadly natural events in Brazil since 1900.

Fernando Perfista, a 31-year-old ranch hand, walked with friends for hours through the night, carrying the body of his 12-year-old son, the only of his four children he had found. "My children are in there, in that river bank, under that mud," he said.

Amauri Souza, 38, who helped Mr Perfista carry his son's body, added: It's a scene of war and total loss. I heard my friends screaming for help in the night."

Officials said that while many injuries are not that severe – mostly cuts and broken bones – they are worried about the health risks to come as even survivors were "buried in contaminated water" and people with minor cuts are developing infections.

A total of 227 people were killed in Teresopolis and 230 in Nova Friburgo. Another 41 died in neighbouring Petropolis and 16 in the town of Sumidouro. About 14,000 people had been driven from their homes.

Four more people have died in floods and mudslides in Sri Lanka and 11 more have disappeared. Days of heavy rain have caused havoc, and the death toll now stands at 27.