Update on Venezuela Flood Relief

News and Press Release
Originally published
Food for the Hungry airlifted an emergency shipment worth $285,000 of medicine, food and clothing to the victims of flooding, landslides and mudslides in Venezuela. Additional relief -- primarily cash to purchase food and temporary shelter locally -- will be provided as local partners are identified and screened.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reported in a television broadcast Monday night that the disaster destroyed 23,000 homes and left 140,000 homeless.

Death toll reports still vary widely. Chavez reported in his broadcast that only 342 bodies had been found and declined to speculate further. Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said in previous interviews that at least 10,000 are dead and some news and relief agencies are putting the toll as high as 25,000.

Most of those killed are still trapped under mud and land slides, making it very difficult to recover bodies and make accurate death toll estimates. Other victims were washed out to sea, leaving families with no body to recover.

The area most affected, the state of Vargas, is a narrow strip of land on Venezuela's Caribbean coast just outside of Caracas. Vargas lies sandwiched between the Avila mountain range and the sea.

The area was home to an estimated 350,000 residents, many of whom lived in densely-populated, poverty-striken neighborhoods. Area residents often built substandard homes that hung precariously on the sides of the mountains. Unusually heavy seasonal rains brought tons of rock and mud crashing down on them.

Roads into the area have been completely cut off and many of the victims have had be evacuated by air or boat. Others left homeless have walked long miles to shelters in Caracas and other cities. President Chavez estimated Monday that the government had evacuated nearly 70,000 people trapped by mud and flood waters.

Venezuela's main port city of La Guaira was estimated by a government official to be 70% destroyed. Soldiers Monday fired warning shots into the air to scare off looters who were raiding shipping containers for food.

Drinking water remains a scarce commodity in the area. Landslides crushed water systems or filled pipes with mud. The Venezuelan Navy has delivered 800 tons of drinking water by boat to victims living in coastal areas.

Health officials are watching for signs of epidemics and are especially worried for children suffering from dehydration and diahrrea.

The Venezuelan government estimates that it has so far received $4.5 million in foreign assistance, including 56 tons of food and 10 tons of medicine.

The government and foreign relief agencies such as the Red Cross set up shelters for the homeless. President Chavez Monday urged Venezuelans to open their homes and "adopt a family" during the Christmas season.