Brazil flood toll rises to 246, Rio's Christ statue cut off
RIO DE JANEIRO - Landslides triggered by pounding rain in Rio de Janeiro last week killed at least 246 people, officials said, as access to the city's eight-decade-old Christ statue was cut off for the first time.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes also estimated the cost of repairs to damage caused by the disaster to at least 113.6 million dollars.
The death toll rose on Tuesday as more bodies were uncovered in the wreckage of shantytowns knocked off their precarious mountainside perches by the landslides.
Searches were continuing for another 200-some people still missing in Rio's satellite town of Niteroi.
The statue of Christ the Redeemer, the landmark monument that dominates Rio, was isolated by nearly 300 landslides on and around the Corcovado mountain on which it sits, forest official Bernardo Issa told the O Globo daily.
The road and trainline that carry two million tourists each year to see the statue were covered in layers of mud and rocks.
"The damage to the park is severe. It's closed indefinitely. We're recommending people not try to walk or cycle there either," Issa said.
Paes projected some 113.6 million dollars would be needed to pay for damage caused by the heavy rains, as he outlined plans to resettle the residents of shantytowns affected by the disaster, but warned costs could rise to 142 million dollars.
"Yesterday, we completed a large part of the assessments with regard to the repair of the city... the repaving of streets, clean-up of riverbeds among other things," Paes told reporters.
Paes has authorized removing residents of at-risk neighborhoods by force where necessary and announced that relocated families would receive a monthly payment of 256 dollars to help build new homes elsewhere.
Experts said the flooding and landslides that decimated some of Rio's 1,000 slums were a "predictable tragedy."
They pointed to the shaky construction of the houses, their position on slide-prone hillsides and the absence of official urban planning in the poverty struck neighborhoods were to blame.
"Rain didn't kill people living in the slums. It was negligent and irresponsible officials," anthropologist Alba Zaluar told the weekly newsmagazine Epoca.
A former municipal secretary for urban planning, Sergio Magalhaes, told AFP that in addition to curbs on the haphazard building of homes in the slums, public services such as electricity, transport, schools and trash collection should be extended to the zones to counter the prevailing anarchy.
Others, though, noted that forcible evacuations of at-risk areas were not politically expedient in the past.
Faced with the flood deaths and destruction, Paes has said that by 2012, some 12,000 families would be relocated.
On Monday, 300 homes in a northern slum were razed by bulldozers.
According to municipal officials, around 10,000 homes have been built in areas at risk from landslides.
Many of the slums -- called "favelas" in Brazil -- are lawless areas that pose a challenge to authorities trying to reverse the city's reputation for crime ahead of the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro.
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