Trying to describe what he had just seen to a colleague via cellular phone, Red Cross press officer Xavier Castellanos was at a loss for words. A single phrase seemed to repeat itself in his mind: "No existe. No existe." (translation: It doesn't exist). He was referring to the town of Los Corales in Vargas state. A small residential town located at the mouth of the San Julián river, known for its beautiful houses and well kept gardens, Los Corales bore the brunt of the collapse of one side of Avila mountain on the night of 15 December.
The landslide followed several days of heavy rain. The river, which residents say was more like "a small stream" before the heavy rains began, grew into an unstoppable and angry flow of car-sized boulders, rocks, mud and water, cutting a clean and deep path through solid metal and concrete structures. It was as if a bulldozer with a 100-meter wide bucket had razed the entire town. Of the 15,000 residents only a few hundred remain, trying to cope with the wasteland that now lies before them, their spirit devastated.
Unlike the survivors of towns like La Guaira and Macuto, who are determined to stay and rebuild, no one in Los Corales is able to express anything but utter despair. One woman tried to tell what happened to her house, and what began in words ended in a stream of tears. In such physical and emotional desolation, one tends to seek out any sign of life which can breed a sense of hope. But even the surviving animals seemed to understand the extent of the tragedy. The butterfly with its broken wing that struggled to walk from one rock to the next. The lone cat, crying from hunger.
If we could read their thoughts we might find the very phrase that fills the minds of witnesses to this catastrophe: "No existe. No existe."
=A91997 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies