Venezuela Calls Emergency in Nine Flood States
LA GUAIRA, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared a state of emergency in nine flood-stricken northern states Wednesday, after days of torrential rains left two people dead and more than two thousand homeless.
Chavez suspended a trip to Central America at the last minute after seeing the extent of damage in the worst-hit state of Vargas. Up to 30,000 people were killed by devastating mudslides last December in this rugged coastal state.
''There is no reason for terror or panic. But alert? Yes,'' Chavez, a former paratrooper, told a news conference.
In Vargas, rivers burst their banks Wednesday, wrecking homes and dragging tons of rocks and rubble down to the sea. Large areas near the coast remained under water.
Chavez declared an emergency in the western states of Merida, Trujillo, Falcon and Zulia, in easterly Sucre state, and the central states of Carabobo, Aragua, Miranda and Vargas.
The Venezuelan capital of Caracas was also declared in emergency, although the effect of flooding was not widespread.
Chavez said that shelter facilities in Vargas would be expanded to cope after some 2,100 people lost their homes. Nationwide, more than 2,250 Venezuelans had been made homeless by flooding, he said.
Between 5,000 and 8,000 people would have to be evacuated from Vargas, he said, adding that his government had already set aside $11.5 million for the emergency there.
Chavez repeated his entreaties to poor Venezuelans to leave precarious hillside shanties in Vargas and in nearby Caracas and move to new model towns his government is building in the country's deserted interior.
''I rally the nation for a positive response, to go and start up new towns,'' said Chavez, who resettled many of the victims of last December's disaster in southern Venezuela.
But for many residents of Vargas it was difficult to leave their homes even in the face of rising flood waters.
''The uncertainty is where to go, what are they going to offer us,'' said Jose Martinez, whose home in the town of Montesano was threatened by a swollen river.
Other residents of Montesano said they would stay and protect their homes to prevent the looting which took place during last year's disaster.
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