Dozens are still missing four days after the landslide in Venezuela

Dozens are still missing four days after the landslide in Venezuela


Thousands of rescuers and local residents were engaged in an increasingly desperate search through thick mud on Wednesday for 56 people who were still missing after a devastating landslide swept through a Venezuelan town, killing dozens.

At the last official count, 43 bodies had been found after Saturday’s disaster struck Las Tejerias, a town of around 50,000 people located in the mountains about 50 kilometers from the capital Caracas.

President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday the death toll from Venezuela’s worst natural disaster in decades is likely to reach 100.

Unusually heavy rains caused a major river and several streams to overflow, creating a mudflow that washed away cars, parts of houses, businesses, and telephone wires, and downed huge trees.

“This isn’t Las Tejerias anymore. It’s a disaster,” 60-year-old housewife Maria Romero, who was clinging to a log wedged between two walls to avoid being swept away, told AFP on Wednesday.

Romero and six family members found temporary shelter at an elementary school that had survived the deluge. She has lost everything and, like hundreds of others, is uncertain about the future.

The search for the missing continued, with responders using pickaxes, shovels and chainsaws to break through the hardening mud that now covers the town.

The military parachuted food packages and water from a helicopter into remote areas while a mass cleanup was underway to clear trees, rocks, cars, streetlights and utility poles that piled up between thick layers of mud on the roads.

Water and electricity have been partially restored.

– ‘Only in the cinema’ –

“I had never seen a river that big, only in the movies,” Romero said as she recounted how her husband rescued their children from their flooded home one by one and then came back to get the adults.

She herself was paralyzed by panic.

“My granddaughter was screaming… ‘Neighbours, save us!’ but how could the neighbors save us when they had it worse than we did?” said Romero.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said the area had a month’s worth of rain in just eight hours.

The government declared a three-day mourning.

Rescuers told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that it would be difficult to find survivors.

Gabriel Castillo, 32, ran through the village in tears, desperate for news about his mother, his partner and a cousin with whom he shared a house on the banks of an overflowing creek.

He did not find their names on a survivor list at a nearby hospital.

At the hospital, “they offered me food, but I don’t want food, I want my family to come back,” he told AFP.

Experts say the storm was exacerbated by the seasonal La Nina weather phenomenon that swept the region, as well as the effects of Hurricane Julia, which claimed at least 26 lives and caused extensive damage in Central America.

Crisis-stricken Venezuela is no stranger to seasonal storms, but this was the worst so far this year after historic rainfall that caused dozens more deaths in recent months.

Maduro has vowed to rebuild “every single” home and business destroyed by the landslide.

“Las Tejerias will rise like the phoenix, Las Tejerias will be reborn,” he said.

According to Rodriguez, 317 homes were destroyed and 757 damaged by the mudslide.

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

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