Maritza and Mery Abreu lived near each other in the hills surrounding the northern coast town of La Guaira, an area devastated by the recent flooding and mudslides in Venezuela. Both of the sisters' homes were destroyed, inundated by floodwater and buried under heaps of mud. "It's a miracle to be here. None of our family members died, but we saw many of our neighbors sink under the water and mud," said Maritza, her voice breaking with emotion.
For the last two months they had not been in contact with their 80-year-old mother, who lives in Caracas. "As much as possible, we try to visit our mother once a month. But, you know, we have no phones and sometimes not even enough money to take the bus to Caracas," said Maritza.
A few days after the disaster, Maritza and Mery's mother called a toll free number set up by the Venezuelan Red Cross (VRC) to handle inquiries from concerned family members about the welfare of their loved ones. After four days of searching through lists of disaster survivors from name collection centers in the La Guaria area, the Red Cross team managed to find the sisters.
"We went looking for them to make sure they wanted to re-establish contact with their mother. They immediately agreed and begged for our assistance to travel to Caracas and visit her," said Angela Maria Escobar, an International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent tracing delegate, a Red Cross worker whose job is to trace the whereabouts and reunite family members.
Following the December 15 mudslides that took as many as 50,000 lives, people from around the world and throughout Venezuela began calling the Red Cross with tracing requests. "Imagine not knowing, not being able to hear the voice of your loved one after knowing that their neighborhood has been destroyed, buried in mud. Once you've heard their voices, then you can move on with your life," said Ann Homola, American Red Cross tracing delegate.
Ann Homola and Mary Meigs joined the Venezuelan Floods Reunification program on December 30th. They are helping to solve more than 6,000 tracing requests by creating a database that can readily be used to match requests against existing hospital records and VRC disaster assessment censuses. The team of international delegates is also providing training to VRC workers on tracing methods.
"As Venezuelan Red Cross teams assess damage and complete a census for each affected community, they also post information on how to contact loved ones. Every opportunity to enhance the Red Cross tracing program is being implemented. Our goal is to reunify families separated by the disaster as quickly as possible," said Meigs.
Even with 934 successful reunifications as of January 5, 2000, the Venezuelan Floods Reunification program is still a huge undertaking. "We have solved the easiest cases. For most of them, we have a phone number and sometimes an address. The difficult cases remain for which we barely have any accurate information. We have to search everywhere we can, keeping in mind that the affected population may still be in transit until they find a place where they can settle and start all over again," explains Angela Maria Escobar.
All 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 1999, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.
- American Red Cross
- All American Red Cross disaster assistance is provided at no cost, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. The Red Cross also supplies nearly half of the nation's lifesaving blood. This, too, is made possible by generous voluntary donations. 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. To donate blood, please call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE (1-800-448-3543), or contact your local Red Cross to find out about upcoming blood drives. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.