Venezuela

Mudslides Put Venezuela On Guard a Year After Deadly Disaster

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Situation Report
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Posted
Originally published
Written by Stephanie Kriner, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org, with news reports
Nearly a year after floods and mudslides devastated the Venezuelan coastal state of Vargas and parts of the capital, Caracas, disaster victims have braced for a possible repeat. Torrential rains and mudslides that left at least three people dead and more than 2,000 homeless have unleashed fears of another mournful Christmas season.

Most Venezuelans recall Dec. 16 as the anniversary of the horrifying disaster, when as many as 30,000 people died and thousands more lost their homes under mountains of mud. The disaster took place over several days, and Venezuela spent the holiday season mourning the dead. Thousands of homeless families spent Christmas in shelters.

This season's floods, although not nearly as devastating as last December's, have put at risk thousands who still live in the disaster-prone state of Vargas.

In some cases, families who had only recently returned home from shelters where they stayed for nearly a year have been forced to flee again. Belkys Malave and her husband and three children were among those forced to move a second time. "We were one of those families who have spent the past year in a shelter in Tablita," she said in an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent report. "Then, last week, after the rain, there was a fire caused by cables shorting and we had to move to this theatre. There isn't much here, not even cooking facilities, but at least we have doctors looking after us."

The Venezuelan government responded to the recent floods with evacuations, shelters and clean-up crews. Flood victims were moved quickly from the affected areas. Officials report 2,250 homes destroyed, 7,500 homes damaged and 48,750 persons affected.

President Hugo Chavez has urged people to evacuate and declared an emergency in Caracas, Vargas, and eight other states. The president also ordered the military and police to step up security in Vargas to prevent looters from robbing abandoned houses. "There is no reason for terror. But alert? Yes," Chavez said at a news conference following the incident.

Despite the danger, many residents, fearful of vandals and looters, refused to leave. Others were still living in shelters or makeshift homes that they erected last December.

Some of the makeshift homes, made of corrugated iron or scrap wood, are situated on steep hillsides or beside rivers and brooks that threaten to swell to dangerous levels with heavy rains.

Because shelters in Vargas and Caracas are already filled to capacity, civil defense workers scrambled to find more housing for nearly 10,000 new evacuees. By Nov. 21, the government had relocated only about 20 percent of 120,000 Venezuelans whose homes were swept away in the last floods.

Another 4,500 people could lose their homes if rains continue along the Venezuelan coast, Vice President Isaias Rodriguez said at a press conference last week.

The American Red Cross has been in Venezuela since the mudslides last December. Recent flooding also destroyed much of the rebuilding work done since December wreaking more havoc in the disaster-prone region. Flash flooding and mudslides damaged roads and homes. Water swamped large areas near the coast, destroying farmland, and mudslides plunged down mountainsides onto villages below. To accommodate victims of last year's floods, President Chavez's government has built about 20,000 new low-income homes in safer areas. The government grants the homes at special low rates based on family income and gives as much as two years to begin payments.

The American Red Cross also is prepared to help the Venezuelan Red Cross cope with the current threat. Disaster preparedness relief items including plastic sheeting, blankets, hygiene kits and clean-up kits are available for immediate distribution, if necessary. The Venezuelan Red Cross has placed a first aid at the airport in Vargas and is helping patients who received minor injuries during the mudslides. The society also is assisting the government Civil Defense Corps in the rescue and transport of disaster victims.

The American Red Cross Venezuelan Recovery Project includes a team of psychologists working with children still haunted by memories of the destructive rains. The project, managed by a team of nine Red Cross workers, also is helping the Venezuelan Red Cross to develop tracing and mental health counseling programs.

DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement.

American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross.

=A9 Copyright 2000, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.