While there is not an official death count, government officials estimate the final figure could range from 25,000 to 35,000 dead or missing. An estimated 200,000 people remain homeless. The flooding and mudslides have caused the worst disaster in Venezuelan history and one of the worst in Latin American history.
Many families, already grieving the loss of loved ones, must now rebuild their lives; some of them must relocate miles away from their homes, which were swept away by the landslides.
"The social life of the state of Vargas (one of the hardest hit areas) has been totally broken up," said Ivan Cedeno, general secretary for Vargas. "Life as we know it no longer exists."
Cleanup could take up to 10 years and cost billions of dollars.
Ivan Cisneros, a Venezuelan student attending Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, says it will "take years to rebuild my country. Thousands are homeless and need to find new homes as it's too dangerous to rebuild on the same sites. Many of those people are poor and now without jobs. My people need a lot of help!"
International Aid, a Christian relief, development and training agency based in Spring Lake, Michigan, immediately responded to the crisis by sending a shipment of blankets, food, hygiene kits and medicines to the stricken area. International Aid has sent four shipments so far with a total value of approximately $400,000. International Aid is also preparing 10 more shipments.
"We are responding with compassion to the many needs of the victims of the terrible flooding in Venezuela," says Sonny Enriquez, International Aid disaster relief coordinator. "It is one of the worst disasters in Latin American history. The people need medicine, food, blankets and much more. We are partnering with Christian agencies in Venezuela to provide health and hope to the thousands of victims."
Enriquez also headed an International Aid assessment team, which toured the devastated area Jan. 15-22. The team monitored the distribution of International Aid relief goods, met with Christian partners in Caracas to formulate a plan for long-term aid and talked with the many of the victims in the refugee centers.
"Tens of thousands of people in Venezuela have lost their homes and loved ones," says International Aid president Ralph Plumb. "At International Aid we are trying to ensure they do not lose hope. In this time of critical need, we are committed to delivering relief supplies to churches serving those still suffering from this disaster."
International Aid is asking for donations to help the victims in Venezuela. The items include hand soap, new lightweight blankets, cloth diapers, toothpaste and toothbrushes. The products should be sorted and delivered to International Aid offices by Feb. 15.
Churches, families and individuals may also sponsor boxes of relief supplies. For instance, $100 will send five boxes of goods to help five families. The relief supplies will include such items as medicines, blankets, clothes, personal care items, food and cleaning materials.
Credit card donations for Venezuela relief may be made by calling the International Aid 24-hour hot line at 1-800-251-2502 or donate online. Checks should be made out to International Aid and marked "Emergency Relief." Checks may be sent to: International Aid, 17011 W. Hickory, Spring Lake, MI 49456.
International Aid links caring people and organizations with Christian partners worldwide. In fiscal year 1999, the agency provided emergency relief, missionary assistance and medical aid with an estimated value of $74 million through its global outreach. IA responded to such disasters as the Kosovar refugee crisis in the Balkans; earthquakes in Turkey and Colombia; a typhoon in India; flooding in North Carolina from Hurricane Floyd and tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area.
Over the years, the agency has reached millions of people in 170 countries on six continents. International Aid has also partnered with the state of Michigan and Michigan Gov. John Engler in the "Michigan Cares" program to help victims of Hurricane Mitch and "Michigan Cares II" to aid the Kosovar refugees.
Additional International Aid programs include KIDS HOPE USA, Kids Helping Kids, Christian Eye Ministry, Lab-In-A-Suitcase, medical equipment training, the Mission Resource Center for missionaries and short-term volunteer disaster relief outreaches.
To learn more about International Aid, call 1-800-968-7490
JERRY DYKSTRA, MEDIA RELATIONS MANAGER
Phone: (616) 846-7490 Fax: (616) 846-3842