RIO DE JANEIRO – Hundreds of families were evacuated Monday from a hillside shantytown in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro after Brazilian authorities launched a policy aimed at preventing more deaths from mudslides.
The torrential rains that swept Rio de Janeiro state last week left at least 229 dead, prompting the authorities to take action and tear down shantytowns in high-risk areas to avoid further tragedies.
In the “favela,” or shantytown, on Urubu hill, friends, neighbors and town officials helped get residents out of their homes before the excavators arrived.
Furniture and electrical appliances as well as plastic bags full of clothing and personal possessions accumulated outside the houses’ front doors, waiting for someone to help carry them to the waiting trucks.
Even some sturdier structures will be torn down to facilitate the work of the excavating machines.
That is the case of Maria Luisa, 51, who has lived in Urubu since she was born and said that her house was solid and could stand up to any flooding or mudslides. “It has already withstood the floods of the 1970s, when many people died,” she said.
The Rio state government is granting a compensation of 400 reais ($230) per month to help families pay the rent of their new homes while new dwellings are being built.
Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes announced Sunday the construction of 2,000 homes on the land of the former Frei Caneca Prison, which was torn down last month.
The woman knows she can do nothing to save her house and is resigned to accepting the conditions offered by the municipal government. “I don’t know if it’s for the best. I will only be able to answer that when we’re living there,” she said unhappily.
Another woman fainted when she saw the neighborhood where she has lived all her life disappearing little by little, but the local kids seemed to take the forced move as a game.
“I paid for this house with hard work, cleaning people’s homes, and in one day it disappears,” said Ledir, 61, who could not stop crying.
A total of eight shantytowns in the city of Rio de Janeiro will be torn down and some 4,000 families will be forced to abandon their homes.
In Rio de Janeiro some 10,000 homes are estimated to have been built on such “areas of geological risk” as hillsides, and the municipal government intends to have them all evacuated by the year 2012. EFE