Beneath Venezuela's tragedy

Red Cross volunteers Gregor Nassief and Abraham Blanco report from Vargas
Before I left Caracas today with the Red Cross team headed for the State of Vargas, someone warned me, "you walk over bodies there". I thought she meant I would see bodies. But Venezuela's tragedy is not what you see, it's what you don't see.

It is the world buried beneath your feet. You can maybe get a glimpse of it in the painting that hangs on the wall of a house in the town of La Guaira. The painting has not moved, except for the fact that it is slightly off center. But to look at it at eye-level, you must sit on the floor. The ground has risen five feet in some places, fifteen to twenty in others.

Venezuela's tragedy isn't what you hear, it's what you don't hear. It's the screams trapped in time underneath you that nobody got a chance to hear. The screams that were silenced by an avalanche of mud late on the night of December 15th while most people were sleeping.

I remember how earlier that day I leaped over some puddles of water, dodged the rain drops best I could, and jumped into a taxi that took me to work. I remember later that night when, laying comfortably in my bed, I enjoyed the soul-filling sound of the rain and it's cool breeze.

No one knew that the twelve inches of rain that had fallen over the course of several days would suddenly reemerge as mud flows and bring entire pieces of the mountain down with it, forever burying entire towns. There must be few nights in the history of the world that so many people went to sleep and never woke up.

©1997 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies