Residents at the foot of Mount Avila were swept away by mudslides and initial estimates of over 5,000 dead are likely to grow. There are no official estimates of how many children and women were killed, or how many children are now orphans. Many survivors of the mudslides and flooding are now homeless. News reports state that half of the population from the state of Vargas, 175,000 people, are homeless.
Venezuela's defense minister Gen. Raul Salazar told reporters that troops were searching "meter by meter, house by house'' for people who might still be alive under mud and rubble.
UNICEF is focusing its relief response in the following areas: essential medical supplies and first aid; basic sanitation and hygiene education through the mass media; getting children back to school quickly and providing school supplies; water purification tablets and water tanks to hold fresh water; and psycho-social rehabilitation for thousands of children traumatized by the event.
The Government of Venezuela has responded by committing substantial resources and appealing to donor nations and international relief agencies for additional aid. UNICEF's assistance is currently focused on preventing outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, reuniting children and their families, as well as providing counseling for psychological trauma caused by this disaster. These are difficult tasks at the moment due to inaccessibility. Roads, railways, and airports are shutdown due to massive damage from the landslides.
UNICEF's regional office in Bogota has also dispatched staff members to help the UNICEF Venezuela office in its response.
For more than 50 years, UNICEF has worked in Venezuela to provide maternal and child healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and has been a leader in the fight against exploitive child labor practices.
We will continue to post updates as the information becomes available.
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