In this photo released by AGECOM, Assessoria Geral de Comunicacao, flooded streets are seen in in Boca do Rio neighborhood in Salvador, Brazil, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Floods and mudslides from months of heavy rains in northern Brazil have driven more than 186,000 from their homes, killed at least 19 people and cut off shipments from a huge Amazon iron mine, according to officials. (AP Photo/Manui Dias, AGECOM)
SAO LUIS, Brazil -- Brazil intensified efforts to get food and other aid to people isolated by severe flooding as waters kept rising in some areas Monday, including a jungle river nearing its highest level in more than 50 years.
At least 40 people have died in the worst flooding in northern Brazil in at least two decades, and the number of homeless is now above 308,000. Communities remained inundated despite some easing of rain and two deaths were reported in a previously unaffected state.
While officials reported waters were receding in most areas, some rivers were rising in the jungle state of Amazonas, including the Rio Negro that feeds the Amazon River. It was just 74 centimeters (29 inches) below a record set in 1953 at a measuring station in Manaus, an industrial city that is the jumping off point for rainforest tourism, the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency said.
"The situation is very difficult because the state is so large and there are places you can't get to," said Dorothea de Araujo, the Amazon operations manager for the international aid group World Vision. "Food and water are priorities because people are drinking contaminated water."
World Vision planned to send boats with supplies and doctors to help about 30 Amazon communities, she said.
In the hard-hit northeastern state of Maranhao, some roads were reopened and officials using trucks and helicopters began distributing tons of food, medicine, mattresses and blankets flown in on military cargo jets, said Paulo Andrade, logistics coordinator for the state.
"Now we'll be able deliver the things that are needed: mainly food and potable water," he said.
Images from a helicopter flight over Maranhao showed towns with submerged homes and newly created lakes surrounding them. Volunteers lined up to receive boxes of goods being distributed from a military helicopter.
The number of homeless rose by more than 7,000 to 308,455, the result of an unusual two-month siege of rain that caused widespread flooding last week in parts of 10 of Brazil's 26 states. Several states warned that more people could be forced to flee.
The body of a man thought to have died after a canoe overturned in a town was found Monday, but authorities had not classified it as a flood death pending further investigation. A woman was still missing in that incident.
In the coastal state of Sergipe, an 8-year-old girl was swept away while watching rising waters and a man was killed after floodwaters filled his car, the private sector Agencia Estado news agency reported Monday.
Sergipe would be the 11th state to be affected by the heavy rains, but attempts to confirm the report were unsuccessful because state civil defense officials did not answer telephones.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on his weekly radio program Monday that the government was preparing to rebuild after making sure food and medicine reaches hungry and sickened Brazilians.
Silva, who was born poor in Brazil's impoverished northeast, said he sympathizes with victims and urged officials to quickly assess damages so he can enact an emergency order for federal funding.
He said he had lived in neighborhoods hit by flooding. "I know what it's like to have a house filled with water."
The unusually heavy rains have hit a huge region of Brazil stretching from the normally wet Amazon to northeastern states known for extended droughts. Meteorologists blame an Atlantic Ocean weather system that usually moves on in March but hasn't budged this year.
Silva said he worried that climate change could be causing severe weather swings for Latin America's largest nation.
The flooding in the Amazon comes five years after parts of the area experienced a severe drought and environmentalists have said they worry the rain forest and its wild life could be threatened by weather swings.
Meanwhile, a drought in southern Brazil has hurt agriculture and reduced the amount of water flowing over the famed Iguazu waterfalls at the border of Brazil and Argentina.
The floods and droughts drive home the fact "that some things are changing in the world and we need to start looking at them with more attention," Silva said.
A major iron ore export railway that takes the raw ingredient for steel to an Atlantic Ocean port was reopened Monday after more than 500 workers spent days constructing two dikes and using pumps to divert water off the tracks, Companhia Vale do Rio Doce SA said in a statement.
The railway from the Carajas mine in the jungle state of Para had been closed since May 4, said Vale, the world's largest producer of iron ore. The company did not say how many tons of ore were delayed for shipment abroad by the closure.