Venezuela death toll could reach 50,000 - Red Cross

CARACAS, Dec 28 (Reuters) - A top Red Cross official estimated on Tuesday that between 20,000 and 50,000 people were killed by mudslides and flash floods that devastated Venezuela's Caribbean coast two weeks ago.

George Weber, secretary general of the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the castastrophe could rank as Latin America's worst natural disaster of the 20th century.

"All the figures I have received here say there were between 20,000 and 50,000 dead. There is no exact figure," he told a news conference.

Venezuelan government ministers have said that between 20,000 and 30,000 people were thought to have died in the tragedy. No top government official has mentioned a possible toll as high as 50,000 dead.

Most of the victims were buried under avalanches of mud, rocks and trees that crashed down a mountain range spreading havoc along a thin strip of the Caribbean coast, in Vargas state, just north of the Venezuelan capital Caracas.

Weber, who flew over the disaster area on Tuesday morning, said Venezuela's disaster was "certainly at least two or three times worse than Mitch as far as the death toll is concerned." Hurricane Mitch battered Central America a year ago killing at least 9,000 people.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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