Hundreds homeless, 2 dead, after heavy rains in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Heavy rains triggered mudslides and flooding in Rio de Janeiro, leaving hundreds of people homeless and at least two dead, with more rainfall due to heighten the misery, officials said on Friday.

Several rivers in Rio state's northern region overflowed and turned into torrents, destroying a bridge and leaving entire neighbourhoods strewn with large tree limbs and other debris.

Ensuing landslides decimated shoddily-built homes, demolished streets and destroyed cars, many of them sinking head first into the muddy waters.

Under record temperatures exceeding 40 deg C, residents rushed to salvage their belongings from homes flattened by trees uprooted in the water and mudslides.

On Thursday alone, 212mm of rain fell on the northern district of Xerem, more than half of monthly rain totals, according to meteorological services.

Rio Civil Defense Secretary Sergio Simoes said 2,075 people in risk areas were evacuated to municipal buildings, schools and churches, while 438 others lost their homes.

He warned against further landslides in the mountainous region located 80km from Rio, as forecasters warned that more rain was expected in the coming days.

At least two people, including a nine-year-old child, were reported missing.

One of the deceased, who was not identified, was swept away by a deluge in heavy-hit Xerem.

"We must reduce vulnerable areas," said Mr Simoes. "People build their homes too close to rivers or mountain slopes.'

Rains also ravished the towns of Angra dos Reis, Paraty and Mangaratiba.

Reinforcements were boosting the ranks of firefighters in the mountainous regions of Petropolis, Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo.

National Integration Minister Fernando Bezerra travelled to Rio to meet with Governor Sergio Cabral and discuss further actions to take. They were set to tour the affected areas.

In January 2010, 10 days of torrential rains left 900 people dead and 400,000 homeless in the same mountain area.