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Mudslide levels slum

| April 9, 2010 9:00 PM

NITEROI, Brazil (AP) - They are all gone. The Evangelical church where worshippers were praying. A day care center where kids were playing. The pizza parlor where a family was eating.

All were buried under a mountain of mud, garbage and stone when yet another landslide hit metropolitan Rio de Janeiro late Wednesday. This one swept through the Morro Bumba slum, engulfing as many as 200 people and 60 homes. Nothing was left behind but a massive crater of blackened, sodden earth and the remnants of flimsy brick shacks.

Rio state health secretary Sergio Cortes said it was hard to say how many people were buried in the latest slide. "A worse-case scenario is 200," he told The Associated Press. "We know that about 60 houses were buried."

Already 161 people have been confirmed dead in the heavy rains that began Monday in Rio, most of them swept away in landslides that roared through city slums built on steep, unstable hillsides.

"This was a catastrophe, no question," said Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral. "It was a human catastrophe. It was an environmental catastrophe."

The death toll surpasses that of flooding and mudslides in the southern state of Santa Catarina in 2008, which killed nearly 130 people and displaced about 80,000.

"In our experience, it's an instant death," Pedro Machado, undersecretary of Rio state's Civil Defense department, said of the victims buried by landslides.

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