PEDREIRAS, Brazil – Floodwaters receded some in inundated towns across northern Brazil on Sunday, but the number of homeless rose above 300,000 and two people were missing after an overloaded canoe overturned in swift waters.
Forty deaths had been confirmed in northern Brazil's worst flooding in decades, fed by two months of unusually heavy rains in a zone stretching from deep in the Amazon to normally arid areas near the Atlantic coast.
In Maranhao state, one of the worst affected regions, a small canoe capsized with seven people aboard on a river between the towns of Pedreiras and Trizidela do Vale. Two passengers were missing: a 54-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman.
"She knew how to swim, but it looks like the current was too strong," said Francisco Aguiar, an uncle of the missing woman.
Police officers and firefighters were searching in motorboats, said Wallace Pires, an official with Brazil's national security force.
Emergency crews struggled to clear debris from highways blocked by landslides, seeking to open the way for desperately needed aid shipments. There have been widespread complaints that the government was too slow in delivering food and water.
"It's raining less and we were able to clear some of the highways that were blocked," Maranhao state civil defense spokesman Ivar Araujo said. "It will be easier bring help to the victims, but the situation is still a little complicated."
There were reports of scattered looting in Maranhao and of residents refusing to leave flooded homes for fear of thieves.
But the gradual retreat of high water in many places boosted spirits.