More than 40 die as floods hit Venezuela

Publié: 14 février 2005 0:00 CET

Cristina Estrada

At least 40 people have died and over 3,000 homes damaged or destroyed after Venezuela was hit by a week of torrential rains.

According to the authorities more than 18,000 people are estimated to have been affected by the floods and landslides.

At least 24 people have also died in neighbouring Colombia, with some 22,000 people being forced from their homes in the north-eastern part of the country.

The Venezuelan government has declared a state of emergency in nine provinces: Aragua, Carabobo, Capital District, Falcón, Miranda, Táchira, Vargas, Yaracuy and Zulia. Vargas, where in 1999 more than 10,000 people where killed when massive mudslides destroyed towns and villages, is the worst affected.

Many towns and villages have been left isolated after roads were cut, forcing the government to deploy Navy coastguard boats and helicopters to evacuate hundreds of families trapped by landslides on coastal roads.

More than 300 Venezuelan Red Cross (CRV) volunteers have been taking part in search and rescue operations, the transportation of evacuees, collection of humanitarian goods and providing first aid.

The CRV has also carried out an assessment of the extent of the damage and the needs of the affected population. It is also coordinating closely with those in charge of the temporary shelters to bring separated families back together again.

“The situation is critical. The psychological impact of the 1999 tragedy is still very vivid within the Venezuelan people. Seeing the heavy rains, the rivers bursting their banks, the roads being cut off, has distressed people, especially those that were in the affected area due to the carnival holiday,” says Francisco Ayala, relief coordinator of the CRV Caracas Branch.

Yet the death toll could have been much higher, according to Ayala: "The support provided in the dissemination of community-based disaster preparedness workshops has helped people that have been affected to react in a better way to the emergency, minimizing the number of victims having only, although substantial, material damages”.

In an effort to support the Venezuelan Red Cross response to the emergency, the International Federation has released 100,000 Swiss francs (US$ 83,000) from its disaster relief emergency fund.

The funds will help the CRV to assist 1,000 families located in temporary shelters in the following states: Carabobo, Distrito Federal, Miranda, Vargas and Yaracuy with food and non-food relief aid.

There are concerns about a possible increase in illnesses related to poor water and sanitation conditions, so work in primary health care will also be required.