Torrential rains devastate Venezuelan coast

Torrential rains have lashed the Venezuelan coastal state of Vargas, leaving three people dead and forcing the evacuation of thousands. Nearly 3,000 people were left homeless and heavy losses in agriculture and damage to communication routes have been reported.
The rains come barely a year after the same state was devastated by massive floods and landlides that killed 15,000 people last December.

Volunteers of the Vargas branch of the Venezuelan Red Cross have been tirelessly working to evacuate people and distribute food and emergency articles in shelters where those left homeless have found refuge. The volunteers are led by their president, David Meneses, who was himself left homeless last year when his house was destroyed during the December rains.

The Red Cross teams carried out evaluations in the affected areas: Montesano, Canaima, Zimataca, Diez de Marzo, La Tropicana, La Línea, and Ezequiel Zamora. Food and basic provisions have been handed out in eight shelters, most of them in schools, theatres, and military centres, in which more than 750 families were lodged. More than 2,000 flood victims were relocated in six shelters at navy training centres in Montesino and other transit shelters in Caracas.

Belkys Malave, 34, and her husband and their three children were among those forced to move again. "We were one of those families who have spent the past year in a shelter at Tablita," she says. "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 Red Cross has set up two field hospitals with camp beds and basic equipment, as well as an emergency post at Maiquetía Airport. Other Red Cross Societies and the Federation's delegation in Caracas have been closely working with the Venezuelan Red Cross and have given support in food, communications equipment, and technical advice. The government is trying to persuade the families from the state of Vargas to relocate in more secure zones, but unfortunately many of them refuse to leave their homes.

Virtually the entire Vargas coastline was devastated by last year's floods and landslides, and the latest rains make it difficult in places to tell old damage from new. "No one could have foreseen what happened here last year," said Dr. José Rafael Gómez Pinto, the director of communications for the Venezuela Red Cross, on a tour of Vargas. "This was a vacation area where people came to spend the weekend. Even millionaires had houses here."