Thursday, December 1, 2022

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“Get me out”: The search for survivors of the Venezuelan landslide continues

Officials warn the death toll could rise as 60 people remain missing after a landslide swept through a city in central Venezuela.

Rescuers continue to try to locate missing residents of a central Venezuelan town by clearing rocks and mud from the streets of Las Tejerias three days after a massive landslide that claimed dozens of lives.

Neighbors and rescuers — about 3,000 police officers, soldiers and other professionals — were busy Tuesday in an increasingly desperate search for possible survivors, but hope was quickly fading.

Officials said the landslide killed at least 36 people but warned the death toll could rise as bodies are found further downstream from the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods, which are about 50 km (31 miles) from the capital Caracas lie away. At least 60 people are believed to be missing.

Magaly Colmenares said she was with a group of firefighters who recovered her grandson’s body from a mud-inundated house on Monday. The body was taken to a health center that served as a morgue.

“He was buried with a man who tried to help him and his three-month-old sister,” Colmenares said. “I have found my angel and we must also search for his little sister.”

Unusually heavy rains in Venezuela on Saturday overflowed a major river and several streams, causing a flood of mud that washed away cars, parts of houses, businesses and telephone cables and toppled huge trees.

Experts say the storm was made worse by the seasonal La Nina weather system sweeping the region, as well as the effects of Julia, a storm that killed at least 26 people in Central America and caused extensive damage.

Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said a month’s worth of rain had fallen in the region in just eight hours. According to Rodriguez, 317 homes were “completely destroyed” and 757 damaged by the mudslide in Las Tejerias, which lies on Venezuela’s main industrial corridor.

Rescuers said it was “difficult” to find survivors in the city.

“I don’t know if I should scream, I don’t know if I should run … if I should cry,” said Nathalie Matos, 34, of the frustrating wait for news of her 65-year-old mother’s fate, which she had over the phone when the flood came.

“She said to me, ‘Daughter, I’m drowning, the water got in, get me out, get me out… save me!'” Matos recounted. “I tried calling her back, she answered, but it was just noise,” she said.

In a rare public appearance, President Nicolas Maduro visited the city on Monday and toured affected neighborhoods. He said all people affected by the disaster would be given new homes, adding that the town of 50,000 would “rise like a phoenix”.

“Nobody gets let down,” Maduro said.

Maduro told journalists he would welcome international help, without giving further details. His government has historically been reluctant to accept humanitarian aid from Western nations, although it has accepted food and medical supplies from Russia and China.

The authorities have set up refugee centers in Maracay, the capital of the affected province of Aragua, and announced the distribution of 300 tons of food.

The government has also declared a three-day mourning for the victims.

Crisis-stricken Venezuela is no stranger to seasonal storms, but this was the worst so far this year after historic downpours claimed dozens of lives in recent months.

In 1999, about 10,000 people died in a massive landslide in northern Vargas state.

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