The death toll from torrential rains that triggered flash floods and landslides in the scenic Brazilian city of Petropolis has risen to 152, authorities said on Sunday, as the pope sent his condolences.

Rescue workers and residents searching for their missing loved ones continued to dig through mountains of mud and rubble in the southeastern city, which President Jair Bolsonaro said on Friday looked like “scenes of war”.

Police said 165 people were still missing after Tuesday’s storm. It is unlikely that other people will be found alive under the wreckage, authorities said.

It’s unclear how far the steadily rising death toll will go.

The number of missing has fallen as more bodies are identified and families manage to find living, healthy relatives they feared would be lost in the post-storm chaos, police said.

So far, 124 bodies have been identified, including 28 children, they said.

Pope Francis sent his last message of condolence on Sunday after his Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

“I express my closeness to those who have been hit in the previous days by natural calamities,” he said, referring to “devastated” Petropolis as well as Madagascar, recently hit by deadly cyclones.

“Lord, receive the dead in peace, comfort family members and support those who offer help,” he said.

Tuesday’s was the latest in a series of deadly storms to hit Brazil, which experts say are made worse by climate change.

Over the past three months, more than 200 people have died in severe rainstorms, mostly in the southeastern state of Sao Paulo and the northeastern state of Bahia, as well as in Petropolis.

– ‘Mega cleaning’ –
The storm turned the streets of Petropolis into raging rivers that swept away trees, cars and buses, and triggered deadly landslides in the poor hillside neighborhoods surrounding the city of 300,000.

It dumped a month’s worth of rain over several hours on Petropolis, a scenic tourist town that was the summer capital of the Brazilian Empire in the 19th century.

The city staged what it called a “mega clean-up operation” on Sunday, aided by 370 sanitation workers sent in as reinforcements from nearby cities of Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi.

The mayor’s office has urged residents to stay home unless there is “extreme necessity” to let clean-up crews clean up the piles of mud and debris that still clog the streets.

Authorities have so far recovered more than 300 cars that were “strewn across the city, blocking streets and sidewalks or stuck in rivers”, they said.

“We need our streets cleared to accelerate the work of getting our city back on its feet,” Mayor Rubens Bomtempo said in a statement.

It is unclear when those who have lost their homes or had to evacuate will be able to return to the hardest hit areas, if at all.

At least 856 people are housed in emergency shelters, officials said.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of casualty burials continued at the town’s main cemetery, where the local government brought in additional gravediggers as reinforcements.

AFP