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Brazilians flee flooding, stay in cow pens

BACABAL, Brazil — Brazilians huddled in cow pens converted into emergency shelters Friday as swollen rivers continue to rise in northern Brazil's worst floods in decades.

The number of homeless reached nearly 300,000 and the death toll rose to 39. Coffins started popping out of the soaked earth.

More than 1,000 people forced from their homes were crammed into a sprawling complex of stables and wooden shacks that hosts the annual August cattle fair in this city of 95,000 surrounded by small farms and jungle.

Up to six people were staying in each pen, sleeping in hammocks, mattresses and on the floor. They cooked government handouts of rice and beans over open wood fires, many with the TVs they toted with them stacked among their belongings.

Others stayed in shacks normally used to sell trinkets and cattle products during the annual fair. The pigs, chickens and dogs they brought with them roamed a concrete courtyard where children kicked around balls.

Local health officials acknowledged sanitary conditions were deplorable and could lead to outbreaks of disease, but those staying in the stables said they worried conditions could be worse elsewhere if they were forced to go.

"We've gotten used to being here, I've got my family by my side, we know this place and we don't know what we'd find in another shelter," said Luz Gomes, while cradling her baby son.

Unusually heavy rains continued Friday, extending two months of rainfall across 10 of Brazil's 26 states. Three times the size of Alaska, the affected area stretches from the normally wet rainforest to coastal states known for lengthy droughts.

Brazilians flee flooding, stay in cow pens 05/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:50pm]

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