Rio relocating 2,600 families from areas most threatened by more landslides; death toll 229

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rio evacuating 2,600 families from at-risk homes

RIO DE JANEIRO — The threat of new mudslides forced Rio de Janeiro officials to begin removing 2,600 families from at-risk areas Monday and prompted the closure of the trolley ride that leads tourists to the Christ the Redeemer statue.

The trolleys have been kept from taking tourists up the mountain where the statue stands because there is a chance of slides along the rails, said Daniele Wall, a spokeswoman with Rio’s health and civil defense department.

She said the trolley rides were halted Sunday, but the statue remains open to visitors. Tourists can climb the mountain by car, but will not get the kinds of views that are available from trolleys that circle their way to the top.

Earlier Monday, the Rio city government said in a statement that the 2,600 families being evacuated from risk areas will receive a stipend to pay for housing until they are relocated to new homes provided by the government. Some residents have been evacuated to temporary shelters.

Officials said at least 250 homes will likely be demolished within the next two weeks. All together, nearly 13,000 families are living in homes at risk for slides and will have to be relocated.

“Convincing them that they are living in a high-risk area is an arduous task, but we don’t want to lose any more lives,” Assistant Mayor Andre Santos said. “This is a tough job: These people have been living here for 30, 40 years in homes that they had to build under difficult circumstances. But what we are doing at this moment is absolutely necessary.”

Churches and samba schools have been sheltering families since last week, when heavy rains and landslides killed at least 231 people in Rio de Janeiro state, firefighters said.

Most deaths happened in Niteroi, a city of about 500,000 people across the bay from Rio, where up to 60 houses that had been built atop a giant, unstable landfill were destroyed in a single slide.

Associated Press writer Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that trolleys to Christ the Redeemer statue were halted Sunday, not Saturday.)

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