Families bury victims of deadly mudslides and flooding in the mountain city of Petropolis where authorities say the tally of casualties could rise further as scores still remain unaccounted for.

Floods and mudslides swept away homes and cars, but even as families bury their dead, it is unclear how many bodies remain trapped in the mud.
Floods and mudslides swept away homes and cars, but even as families bury their dead, it is unclear how many bodies remain trapped in the mud. (AP)

The death toll from floods and landslides that swept down on the mountain city of Petropolis in Brazil has climbed to at least 110, with authorities saying it could still rise sharply, with more than 130 people still unaccounted for.

The Rio de Janeiro state government confirmed on Thursday the rising loss of life hours after local police announced 134 people are missing, many feared trapped in the mud beneath the German-influenced city nestled in the mountains above the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Survivors dug through the ruined landscape to find loved ones even as more landslides appeared likely on the city's slopes. A small slide on Thursday prompted an evacuation but didn't cause injuries. 

Rosilene Virginia said her brother barely escaped, and she considers it a miracle. But a friend hasn't yet been found.

"It's very sad to see people asking for help and having no way of helping, no way of doing anything," Virginia told the AP news agency as a man comforted her. 

"It's desperate, a feeling of loss so great."

As some people tried to clear away mud, others began burying lost relatives, with 17 funerals at the damaged cemetery.

READ MORE: Death toll from Brazil mudslides rises as rescue efforts continue

'Hand of God'

Petropolis, named for a former Brazilian emperor, has been a refuge for people escaping the summer heat and tourists keen to explore the so-called "Imperial City."

The state fire department said 25.8 centimetres of rain fell within three hours on Tuesday –– almost as much as during the previous 30 days combined. 

Rio de Janeiro's Governor Claudio Castro said in a press conference that the rains were the worst Petropolis has received since 1932.

"No one could predict rain as hard as this," Castro said. More rain was expected through the rest of the week, according to weather forecasters.

Castro added that almost 400 people were left homeless and 24 people were recovered alive. They were fortunate, and they were few.

Lisa Torres Machado, 64, said "the hand of God" spared her family from tragedy.

"A little room was left at my mom's house and she hid there with my two sisters and brother," Machado, a resident of Petropolis for three decades, told AP. 

"I can't sleep. I still can't believe what's happening. We lost all our friends."

Similar catastrophes

The stricken mountain region has seen similar catastrophes in recent decades, including one that caused more than 900 deaths. 

In the years since Petropolis presented a plan to reduce risks of landslides, but works have advanced only slowly. 

The plan, presented in 2017, was based on analysis determining that 18 percent of the city's territory was at high risk for landslides and flooding.

Petropolis' city hall declared three days of mourning for the tragedy.

Southeastern Brazil has been punished with heavy rains since the start of the year, with more than 40 deaths recorded between incidents in Minas Gerais state in early January and Sao Paulo state later the same month.

Source: AP