Image: Home surrounded by landslide area
Bruno Domingos  /  Reuters
A house that somehow survived one of many landslides near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is seen Monday.
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updated 1/17/2011 6:19:12 AM ET 2011-01-17T11:19:12

Efforts to fly rescue helicopters to hundreds of people stranded by massive mudslides were slowed by renewed rains in a region north of Rio de Janeiro, as the death toll rose to 633 in a disaster that has left thousands more homeless.

With rainy skies and low visibility in an area full of craggy, steep peaks, officials focused their attention on the survivors they could reach more immediately, mapping out a plan to get people living in tents in the short term, and into safe, affordable housing in the coming months.

Mayor Jorge Mario Sedlacek of Teresopolis, one of the hardest-hit cities, said Sunday that more than 2,000 tents were being brought in, each capable of sheltering up to 10 people. Teresopolis has more than 3,000 people who were made homeless by the slides.

"They will give families shelter for up to six months while more permanent solutions can be developed," Sedlacek said. "These tents will at least re-establish the family units, which will bring some comfort to people living in communal shelters."

That could come as good news to people like Magda Brito Silveira, who said she was near her breaking point trying to run her family of six children after five chaotic days in a crowded gymnasium-turned-shelter.

"We have nowhere else to go, no resources," she said. "I am trying to keep the children clean, to feed them, to make sure we're all together. But I can't hold on like this much longer."

Image: Brazilian soldiers tend to a landslide victim in Nova Friburgo
Ricardo Moraes  /  Reuters
Brazilian soldiers tend to a landslide victim in Nova Friburgo on Sunday.

A local business has offered land on which to set up the tents, and crews began working to level the ground, Sedlacek said. The city is also studying the option of erecting modular homes, which can be set up within a few days.

Federal housing
Even before the disaster struck, the city had requested federal funds to build affordable, safe housing, in a region notably lacking in both.

More than $72 million has since been approved for Teresopolis and will be used to build homes and shore up areas at risk for more slides, the mayor said. Two other towns hit by the disaster also won federal funding: $13 million for Petropolis, and $5 million for Nova Friburgo.

The federal government also offered to pay the rent of 2,500 families for an indeterminate period. Sign-ups for the program started Sunday, said Gen. Jose Elito, minister for national security.

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"We are removing bureaucratic bottlenecks and registering people to help them with long-term housing needs," Elito said.

Authorities also will map out and evacuate high-risk areas where residents are holding on to their homes, said Sedlacek, the mayor.

"We know there are communities that are at immediate risk. The government is planning to remove those residents and place them in shelters or tents," he said.

Days after mudslides wiped out whole neighborhoods early Wednesday, many residents continued to live in homes in threatened areas, unwilling to join the thousands crowded into shelters despite the ever-present danger to their lives.

Rali Oliveira da Silva, 35, spent several years building a home for his family in Cascata do Imbui, saving little by little for the cement, the bricks, the paint. The house was still standing Sunday, but its cement patio now hung precariously over a yawning precipice, the empty space left by a slide that killed most of his downhill neighbors.

Oliveira da Silva's home could be next. But he said he has no money to rent another place, much less buy land elsewhere and start over, so he's staying put for now.

"There is no financing for someone like me, and I can't afford to buy a home in town," he said. "What am I supposed to do? Move my family to a shelter? And then what?"

Free phones
On Sunday, municipal, state and federal officials set up a center to register missing persons; began distributing 35,000 free cell phones donated by a telecommunications company; and announced immediate plans to relocate some 2,500 people housed at the Teresopolis gym to 18 smaller, better organized shelters at churches, warehouses and other spaces.

A brief morning lull in the downpours allowed rescue helicopters to buzz around the emerald-green peaks in this area about 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, delivering desperately needed food and water to some of the most remote neighborhoods.

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"The priority is the rescue of people who are still isolated," said Alexandre Aragon, head of the Brazilian National Security Force, which is aiding in the recovery. "We have to take advantage of this break in the weather to help people in these remote, collapsed areas."

Rio state's Civil Defense department said on its website late Sunday that the death toll reached 633 between the cities of Teresopolis, Nova Friburgo, Petropolis and Sumidouro.

The death toll has risen daily as more bodies are pulled from the mud.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Mudslides in Brazil kill hundreds

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  1. A car, dragged inside a church by a mudslide, is seen in Nova Friburgo, Brazil on Friday, Jan. 21. Brazil will create a nationwide disaster-prevention and early-warning system following recent floods and landslides that killed more than 750 people in mountain towns north of Rio de Janeiro, government officials said Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A resident comes down a house destroyed by a landslides, in Nova Friburgo on Thursday, Jan. 20. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A dog from K9 de Creixell, a Spanish organization, searches for landslide victims in a damaged home in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 20. Deaths from last week's mudslides rose to at least 727 and have left thousands homeless. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A girl receives a container of potable water from a soldier in the landslide-affected Alto Floresta neighborhood in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, on Wednesday, Jan. 19. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Residents salvage items from their homes after a landslide in the Alto Floresta neighborhood of Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 19. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Red Cross volunteers stack donated clothes at a relief center in Teresopolis, state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday, Jan 19. Brazilian officials began moving thousands of people out of at-risk areas near Rio in a flooding disaster that has already left at least 727 people dead. Ten teams of civil defense and environment officials were evacuating residents in outlying areas of Nova Friburgo, the hardest-hit town, said their commander, Colonel Roberto Robadey. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Brazilian National Force rescue workers carry the body of a boy on the scene of a recent landslide, where seven people were found buried among debris in the neighbourhood of Jardilandia, in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, on Jan. 19. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Residents of Sumidouro, one of the mudslide-hit towns north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, unload supplies from a navy helicopter on Tuesday, Jan. 18. Brazil has sent around 700 troops to help areas desperate for aid. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A man cleans up at a fabric store in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Severely eroded portions of mountains are seen Monday near Nova Friburgo, where dozens died. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman cries while holding her newborn baby after being rescued by helicopter from an isolated area near Petropolis on Monday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A house remains standing on Monday even though the rest of the hillside in a rural area north of Rio de Janeiro collapsed. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A few of the thousands of landslide victims rest at a shelter on Monday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Damage to a road near the town of Nova Friburgo is seen Monday. Dozens of people died in the town. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    Rescue workers and residents of Nova Friburgo recover the body of a young landslide victim on Monday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Gravediggers carry the coffin of a victim at a cemetery in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Isaura Martin dos Santos waits for medical attention at a hospital in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rescue workers search for victims after a landslide in Nova Friburgo on Sunday. (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Paulo Rodrigues da Silva, left, reacts as he embraces a relative he found at a shelter for people displaced by landslides in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Rescue workers climb on a helicopter after searching for survivors and victims in an area affected by a landslide near Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. People affected by recent landslides of mud and rock in Teresopolis, Brazil, receive drinking water on Jan. 16. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Ludmila Moura, 5, sits on a mattress at a shelter for people displaced by landslides in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. Ludmila was pulled out of her destroyed house by her father, Marcelo Moura, on the first night of heavy rains last Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Residents flee the Campo Grande neighborhood after the area was devastated by recent landslides of mud and rock, in Teresopolis, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A dog, "Leao", sits for a second consecutive day, next to the grave of her owner, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana, who died in the week's catastrophic landslides in Brazil, at the cemetery in Teresopolis, near Rio de Janiero, on Jan. 15. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Local residents look at partially buried vehicles in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Saturday, Jan. 15, after heavy rains hit Rio de Janeiro for several days. More than 500 people have died due to floods. (Antonio Lecedra / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A resident is reflected in a mirror at a destroyed house in Teresopolis, Brazil, Saturday, Jan. 15. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A house is buried in an area affected by mudslides in Floresta in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 14. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A woman is helped by residents after being rescued from a landslide in Teresopolis, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 14. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Residents stand on safe ground after a landslide in Teresopolis, Friday, Jan. 14. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. People mourn during the burial of a landslide victim in Teresopolis, Friday, Jan. 14. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. An aerial view of a neighborhood partially destroyed by a landslide caused by heavy rains in Nova Friburgo, Jan. 13. Rescue workers dug desperately for survivors on Thursday and struggled to reach areas cut off by raging floods and landslides that have killed hundreds of people in one of Brazil's worst natural disasters in decades. (Shana Reis  / Government of Rio via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A nurse receives medical attention after fainting in front of the police station in which several bodies are being counted after the heavy rains in Teresópolis, Jan. 13. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. People bury victims of a landslide in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. 6-month old baby Nicolas Guimaraes s rescued from the wreckage caused by a mudslide in Nova Friburgo, January 12. (Marcus Vini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Rescue team works in the zone affected by a landslide after heavy rains in the city of Nueva Friburgo, Jan. 13. (Jadson Marques / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Roberta Machado Correia, who survived a landslide, attends the burial of a friend in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Rescue workers remove a live rabbit as they search for survivors inside a home destroyed by a landslide in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A church sits surrounded by debris Wednesday, Jan. 12, after a mudslide hit this area of Teresopolis, Brazil. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Flooded areas Wednesday included this street in Franco da Rocha. (Paulo Whitaker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Areas ripped away by slides are seen Wednesday in Teresopolis. (Fabio Motta / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Rescue workers search for victims Wednesday in a low-income neighborhood of Teresopolis. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Damage in Teresopolis is seen on Wednesday. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Debris lines this street Thursday in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. People stand on the porch of their home in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis on Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Cars like this one in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis littered the mudslide areas on Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Rescue workers remove debris in their search for victims in Teresopolis on Wednesday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Rain continued Thursday as destruction lined the roads of towns like Teresopolis. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Debris is seen Wednesday in the city of Nova Frigurgo, one of the hardest hit areas. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Editor's note:
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    A man reacts as he walks close to bodies among the debris in Teresopolis on Wednesday. (Roberto Ferreira / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. A victim is rescued Wednesday in Teresopolis. (Marino Azevedo / Handout via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Survivors take refuge in a gymnasium in Teresopolis on Thursday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  2. Editor's note:
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Interactive: Map of areas hit; landslide explainer

Video: Relief efforts in Brazil hindered by perilous conditions

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