1000’s of Venezuelans Wait for Help

CARACAS (AFP) – Torrential rains have killed at least 31 people in recent days as the South American country grapples with its worst flooding in 40 years, officials said Thursday.

“We continue our search and rescue mission,” Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami told reporters as he noted that another three people were still missing.

Authorities have set up 319 shelters across the country for those left homeless by rains that have impacted nearly 72,000 people.

The rains, which have poured almost non-stop for a week, are expected to last for another two days, according to meteorological officials.

“We’ve been under water for a week. A bit more has come today,” Gloria Villegas told AFP, leaning against a door, her bare calves submerged in water that reached every corner of her home.

Villegas, three months pregnant, has stacked her refrigerator, bed and clothes on top of one another and even has a television plugged in dangerously close to the water.

“I’m not moving from here. We have to wait for help but we cannot go and just leave everything behind,” she added, gazing at the huge banana plants in her backyard.

As the sun finally broke through Thursday, officials were able to continue their emergency operations and deliver food and other supplies to the impact zone, mostly in north-central Venezuela, where beaches were closed and fishing was restricted.

The flooding has destroyed thousands of homes across a wide swath of the country, including in the capital Caracas.

“It’s lost,” Villegas’s neighbor Filemon Hernandez, looking helplessly at his flooded garden of fruits and herbs swept away by the water. “I just hope that nature has mercy on us.”

Schools have been closed this week in 11 states, and the flooding has blocked key roads and shut down some airports and refineries in South America’s largest oil producer.

Strategic Operational Command chief General Henry Rangel said his team had distributed 100 tons of food and 50 cleaning units, amid a deployment of some 10,000 troops to help provide aid.

Four states remained under a state of emergency: Falcon, Vargas, Miranda and the Capital District.

Many Venezuelans are still haunted by a wave of massive landslides in 1999 in Vargas that killed some 10,000 people and swept entire villages away.

The annual rainy season in Central and South America has been especially heavy this year because of the climate phenomenon known as La Nina.

This year’s flooding has claimed the lives or more than 130 people in Mexico and 400 in Central America, according to officials.

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