Period covered: 16 December 1999 - 30 April 2000
The Venezuela flood assistance operation was launched within hours of the disaster, coordinated by the Regional Delegation in Guatemala. Using the resources established in the region following Hurricane Mitch in 1999, a Regional Intervention Team (RIT), drawn from a standby pool of Federation-trained regional National Society delegates, was quickly mobilized. The much improved Federation response was largely the result of lessons learned from the in-depth analysis and assessment of the Hurricane Mitch Operation. Despite delays and the non-availability of goods in country at the beginning, the operations were smoothly managed in a timely manner with most objectives achieved. As a result of the operation, the Venezuelan Red Cross has increased its capacity in relief disaster management, with more trained volunteers and staff which will serve as a human resources bank for future contingencies. Additionally, this operation has contributed to improving the National Society’s image by increasing their visibility in the country.
Weeks of unseasonable and unexpected torrential rains in Venezuela reached record proportions on 15 and 16 December 1999, causing massive landslides and severe flooding in seven northern states of the country. Overflowing rivers swept through poor districts in the capital, Caracas, washing away thousands of homes. In the coastal valleys, mudslides buried most of the towns in Macuto and Caraballeda while the towns of Los Corales, Camuri Chico and Carmen de Uria totally disappeared under avalanches of rock and mud. Venezuela had not experienced a natural disaster for decades and the consequent lack of preparedness and training for such an emergency resulted in it’s response mechanisms being quickly overtaken by events.
An estimated 190,000 people were evacuated as a result of the disaster. 326 military shelters were set up, housing at one point over 100,000 evacuees. In addition, there were 63,000 persons in a further 280 shelters around the country, plus an unknown number of families staying with relatives or friends. The actual number of evacuees and internally displaced was difficult to establish at any given time due to the ongoing movement of the population. Many persons who would return to their homes when the water levels receded went back to the shelters when the rains started again.
The Ministry of Foreign Relations acknowledged that there could have been between 10,000 to 20,000 deaths. Other official reports indicate that over 400,000 people were affected by the landslides and floods with some 6,000 to 7,000 missing. A final figure of 30,000 dead has been accepted as reasonable. The latest government figures show some 81,000 houses affected, and 30,000 families are registered as having suffered total loss of their homes. Out of these, 30% are unemployed.