RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Heavy rains in Rio de Janeiro state caused mudslides that killed at least six people in the state Monday, adding to a toll of 15 dead in Rio and neighboring Minas Gerais state since the beginning of the year.
State officials said mud loosened by the rain swallowed about 10 houses in the town of Sapucaia. Five residents were confirmed dead by rescue crews that are still searching for survivors. The sixth victim died when a house collapsed nearby.
Up to 20 people were possibly missing, Rio state's civil defense department said. Local authorities were still compiling a list of the disappeared.
Among the missing was a family whose car was caught in the mudslide as they tried to escape, municipal spokesman Sergio Campante said.
Last week, torrential rain burst a dam, leading to the evacuation of 4,000 residents of the town of Tres Vendas. Elsewhere in the state, another 4,000 people fled their houses and three people died in heavy rains and mudslides.
In the neighboring state of Minas Gerais, more than 10,000 people have left their homes, and 12 have died in floodwaters or mudslides, according to the state's civil defense department.
The Southern Hemisphere summer, which starts in late December, is Brazil's rainy season and frequently brings devastation and death to communities perched on hillsides or near river banks. Nearly 1,000 people died last year around this time when torrential rains unleashed avalanches of mud in Rio's mountains.
In the capital of Brasilia, President Dilma Rousseff cut short her vacation and met with Cabinet members Monday to discuss the relocation of residents of areas hit hardest by the storms.
"Avoiding deaths is our number one priority," said Rousseff's chief of staff, Gleisi Hoffmann.
The federal government announced the creation of a working group of 35 geologists and 15 hydrologists who will evaluate at-risk areas in Brazil's southeastern states of Rio, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo.
"We're going to map out the locations to identify the most vulnerable areas and help relocate the families," the minister of science and technology, Aloizio Mercadante, said at a news conference after the Cabinet meeting.
Associated Press reporter Marco Sibaja in Brasilia contributed to this report.