The death toll in mudslides that buried areas of southern Italy rose relentlessly Friday amid confusion over how many people were still missing in what media dubbed the Pompeii of modern times.

As the government declared a state of emergency in three provinces and slated 50 billion lire ($30 million) to aid initial relief and reconstruction, the U.S. military joined efforts to help the victims.

The civil protection department in Rome put the death toll at 87 and the number of missing at 107. It said a figure of 208 missing given several hours earlier was wrong.

Officials said they would stop issuing numbers of missing until the situation cleared up. A number of people who were first believed missing later returned to their homes.

The department estimated 1,570 had been made homeless in one of Italy's worst natural disasters in years, triggered when days of torrential rain swept mud and topsoil off mountains throughout Campania to create fast-moving rivers of mud.

The mudslides destroyed houses, stripping buildings of their contents and burying whole families, and left streets and squares looking like wastelands littered with smashed wood, boulders and rubble.

One Italian newspaper and some television commentators called the disaster the "Pompeii of the year 2000," a reference to the volcanic eruption that left thousands of people buried by ash near Naples in 79 A.D.

Friday morning, some Sarno residents used ladders to rise above the mud and enter the upper floors of their homes. They later left with possessions bundled in bedsheets.

A convoy of U.S. Navy vehicles carrying emergency equipment was heading to help, a Navy spokesman said. The 15-vehicle convoy transporting some 40 Naples-based servicemen was headed for the town of Quindici with bulldozers, ambulances, refrigeration trucks and tents.

"We are going to do an assessment first. We are talking to local officials to see what else they need," Lieutenant Jeff Gordon told Reuters from the scene.

The soldiers were from the U.S. Naval Support Activity base at Naples military airport.