Torrential rains drenching northeastern portions of the South American country since Tuesday leaves at least 79 dead and dozens missing, officials say.

The disaster is the latest in a recent series of deadly landslides and floods triggered by extreme weather in Brazil.
The disaster is the latest in a recent series of deadly landslides and floods triggered by extreme weather in Brazil. (AFP)

Torrential rains in northeastern Brazil have left at least 79 people dead and dozens missing, civil defence officials said, as rescuers capitalised on a lull in downpours to search for survivors.

"As of 6:00 pm (2100 GMT) this Sunday, the number of people killed as a result of the rains has reached 79," the civil defence authority of Pernambuco state, where the affected communities of Recife and Olinda are located, said in a statement.

The number of dead has mounted steadily over the weekend, including dozens in landslides, as heavy rains caused rivers to overflow and torrents of mud swept away everything in their path.

The latest statement from the civil defence did not offer an update on the number of people missing, though the agency had earlier reported 56 people still unaccounted for and nearly 4,000 who had lost their homes.

"We still don't have an exact number, but there are still reports of victims... who have not been found," Pernambuco Governor Paulo Camara said during a press conference.

"The search will continue until we can identify all the missing people," he said.

Authorities warned that rain was forecast to continue on Monday, but in the meantime while the storm subsided some 1,200 personnel –– some in boats or helicopters –– resumed search and rescue work, state officials said.

But Minister of Regional Development Daniel Ferreira urged caution in a press conference earlier on Sunday in Recife, the capital of hard-hit northeastern Pernambuco state.

"Although it has stopped raining now, we are forecasting heavy rains for the next few days," he said.

"So the first thing is to maintain self-protection measures."

Between Friday night and Saturday morning, rainfall volume reached 70 percent of what was forecast for all of May in some parts of Recife.

READ MORE: Dozens killed in Brazil landslides and floods

Climate crisis

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Sunday he would travel to Recife on Monday.

Over the past year, hundreds of Brazilians have died in flooding and landslides brought on by torrential downpours.

In February, more than 230 people were killed in the city of Petropolis, the Brazilian then-empire's 19th-century summer capital, in Rio de Janeiro state.

Early last month 14 more were killed by flooding and landslides in the state.

Experts say Brazil's rainy-season downpours are being augmented by La Nina –– the cyclical cooling of the Pacific Ocean –– and by climate crisis.

Because a hotter atmosphere holds more water, global warming increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.

Risks from heavy rains are augmented by topography and poor construction in shantytowns built in steep areas.

READ MORE: Rescuers dig through mud in search of Brazil flood survivors as hopes dim

Source: AFP