Image: Slum home demolished
Felipe Dana  /  AP
Workers demolish a home at the Morro do Urubu slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Monday.
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updated 4/13/2010 10:41:34 AM ET 2010-04-13T14:41:34

The threat of new mudslides forced officials to begin evicting 2,600 families from at-risk areas Monday as they embarked on a slum demolition program on Rio de Janeiro's hills.

The danger also kept a shutdown in place for the popular trolley ride that carries tourists up a mountain to the famed Christ the Redeemer statue.

Daniele Wall, a spokeswoman with Rio's health and civil defense department, said 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 the trolleys that circle their way to the top of one of South America's most impressive tourist destinations.

Earlier Monday, city officials said in a statement that 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.

The government did not say exactly how many people were being ousted, but Brazil generally classifies families as having at least four members — meaning the number of those forced out initially was likely more than 10,000. They were being given a monthly stipend of 400 reals (US$235) to pay for rent.

People cried while toting appliances and furniture away to unknown destinations as workers using heavy equipment and sledgehammers demolished squat brick and concrete homes built on dangerous hillsides at risk of washing away and burying more people.

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

Slideshow: Rio de Janeiro flooding "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."

Slum resident Andrea Biedade didn't know how she would find a new home for her and her 12-year-old son after her home was targeted for demolition.

"I was born and raised here and now I have to leave," she said. "A lot of people who grew up here are all leaving now."

Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral said 1 billion reals (US$555 million) would be dedicated toward new home construction, but gave no details on when the homes would be delivered.

Churches and samba schools that put on Rio's Carnival parades have been sheltering families since last week, when heavy rains and landslides killed at least 232 people in Rio de Janeiro state, firefighters said in a statement Monday night.

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.

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