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The death toll from Brazil's 'worst disaster' in Bahia has risen

Rescue crews combed the city of Itabuna in southern Bahia in small dinghies, scooping residents from their homes

The death toll from Brazils worst disaster in Bahia has risen
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On Monday, the death toll from the floods wreaking havoc in northeast Brazil reached 20, with the governor of Bahia state declaring it the biggest disaster in the state's history and rescuers bracing for more rain in the coming days.

After a long drought gave way to record rains, much of Bahia, home to nearly 15 million people, has been flooded intermittently for weeks. After a couple of dams failed, flooding in certain regions worsened late on Christmas Eve and early on Christmas Day, forcing residents to flee to higher ground.

Rescue crews combed the city of Itabuna in southern Bahia in small dinghies, scooping residents from their homes, including some who managed to flee through second-floor windows.

On Twitter, Bahia Governor Rui Costa declared 72 municipalities to be in a state of emergency.

"Unfortunately, we're living through the worst disaster that has ever occurred in the history of Bahia," he wrote.

Reuters reported that emergency workers had saved 200 people in only three surrounding villages, according to Manfredo Santana, a lieutenant-colonel in Bahia's firefighting corps. Rescue efforts were hampered by the swollen Cachoeira River's strong currents.

"It's difficult to maneuver even with jet skis," he said. "Rescue teams had to retreat in certain moments."

On Monday afternoon, Bahia's civil defence service said that 20 persons had died in 11 different communities.

Authorities are monitoring an additional 10 dams for any symptoms of collapse, according to the newspaper O Globo, quoting a state firefighting official.

The examination of public infrastructure and urban planning comes just a few years after 270 people were killed when a mining dam in nearby Minas Gerais state collapsed.

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