22 dead, more than 50 missing in landslide in Venezuela

22 dead, more than 50 missing in landslide in Venezuela


A landslide in central Venezuela has killed at least 22 people and left more than 50 missing after a river overflowed, officials said Sunday, in the latest deadly disaster caused by heavy rains that have pounded the country.

Dozens of people have died in the crisis-ridden South American country in recent months as a result of historically high rainfall.

“We see very great damage here, human losses: so far we have already found 22 dead, more than 52 people are missing,” Vice President Delcy Rodriguez told local media at the crime scene in the city of Las Tejerias. “We are working to find these people.”

Homes and businesses were destroyed and felled trees littered city streets, which were covered with mud and debris, including splintered wood, household items and battered cars.

“The village is lost. Las Tejerias is lost,” 55-year-old resident Carmen Melendez, who has lived her entire life in the city 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital Caracas, in Aragua state, told AFP.

Around a thousand people have joined the rescue effort, Interior and Justice Minister Remigio Ceballos told AFP, as he also works at the scene.

Local residents dug through the remains of the destroyed homes in search of loved ones, while search teams arrived with dogs, hoping to find survivors trapped in the rubble.

A butcher shop that had been closed due to the pandemic and was due to reopen on Monday was buried in muddy sediment caked on fridges and everything else inside.

“We’ve been waiting for the meat to come in – to start after two years of closure,” said Ramon Arvelo, one of the workers who helped remove mud.

“I never thought something like this could happen; it’s a really big deal,” said Loryis Verenzuela, 50, as she tearfully gazed at the devastation.

– record rain –

“We have a huge landslide due to climate change,” Ceballos said, referring to the impact of Hurricane Julia, which swept north of Venezuela the night before.

“There was record rainfall,” he added, surveying the site of the disaster — as much rain in one day as is typically in a month.

“These heavy rains have saturated the ground,” he said.

Images captured by rescue teams’ drones showed huge amounts of dirt piled up in the streets as residents tried to shovel out the meter-high mud that had flowed into their homes.

President Nicolas Maduro declared three days of national mourning for the victims, while Venezuelans took to social media to offer assistance to the city.

The Caracas baseball team, Los Leones, said they would organize a collection for the victims and ask for “non-perishable food, water and clothing.”

The landslide, caused by the region’s largest river flood in 30 years, is the worst so far this year in Venezuela, which has seen historic amounts of rain in recent months.

At least 15 people died in the Venezuelan Andes in August after heavy rains triggered mud and rock slides.

And in September, at least eight people died when floods from torrential rains spilled through a religious retreat in the west of the country.

In 1999, around 10,000 people died in a massive landslide in the state of Vargas, north of Caracas.

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