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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 15:30 GMT
Victims tell of flood nightmare

Hundreds wait to be evacuated to safety from La Guaira Hundreds wait to be evacuated to safety from La Guaira

Venezuela Floods
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans made homeless by last week's disastrous landslides are converging on the capital, Caracas, in search of food and shelter.

With them they bring tales of homes destroyed, relatives and friends killed or missing and hospitals and refugee centres stretched to breaking point.

"All I want is to leave this hell," said Aimar Fernandez, amid a sea of destruction and despairing humanity in the hard-hit coastal town of La Guaira, 20 miles (30 kilometres) from the capital.

Coastal areas like Vargas have been hardest hit Coastal areas like Vargas have been hardest hit
Hospitals are treating thousands of people for fractures and other injuries caused when torrents of floodwaters, mud and rocks tumbled down hillsides.

"Several of our relatives, many of our friends and neighbours are trapped," said Maria Vetuzco, clutching her baby. "There is no hope, they are all dead."

Temporary shelters

Emergency shelters in the worst-affected towns are already packed to capacity, and rescuers do not know where to send the exhausted crowds.

Many choose Caracas, but in the bursting emergency shelters that dot the capital there is hardly an inch to spare.

Many have lost everything Many have lost everything
At night, wall to wall mattresses line the floors of places like the United Nations Sports Stadium, temporarily home to 3,000 people alone.

There is no space for any more, but still the refugees come, thousands abandoning their homes in coastal states in a search of somewhere safe to live.

Now the President, Hugo Chavez, has appealed to all Venezuelans with homes that escaped the floods to open their doors to those whose homes did not.

"The time has come to show that we are all Christians," he said. By way of example, his wife Marisabel has opened the presidential residence to children whose parents are missing.

Paratroopers have been sent in to stop looting Paratroopers have been sent in to stop looting
The BBC's Peter Greste in Caracas says the need to clean up the worst affected areas becomes ever more urgent as the flood of refugees continues unabated.

Another pressing problem is one of lawlessness.

Thousands of people have engaged in a massive looting spree, breaking into stores and houses to snatch whatever they can.

"This is an emergency, we need food, we take it," said one young man, who carried a huge frozen tuna on his back as armed soldiers looked on.

Help from abroad

Aid is already pouring in from around the world, with shipments of supplies arriving from Cuba, Mexico and the United States.

The US aid has included two planes, seven helicopters and two boats loaded with supplies. Cuba has sent more than 200 emergency personnel.

What is needed
Sleeping bags, blankets
Mosquito nets
Canned food, rice, flour
Baby food, nappies
Summer clothing
Venezuelans living abroad are also involved in the aid effort. A group has been set up in the Dutch city, Amsterdam, which is co-ordinating the distribution of donations received by the public.

The Help Venezuelan People Group is appealing for a wide range of clothes and food as well as medical equipment, blankets, mosquito nets and baby nappies.

Venezuela-born Jose Noriega, who set up the group said: "There are 150,000 people who have been made homeless. They have absolutely nothing. We can never hope to provide enough for them. So we will send anything we can."

Mr Noriega is in daily contact with his family who live in Caracas. He said the conditions in the flood zones are appalling: "Shanty towns all along the roads into Caracas have been destroyed. People have nowhere to go."

The Help Venezuelan People Group is telling people who want to make donations to contact their nearest Venezuelan embassy.

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See also:
19 Dec 99 |  Americas
Flood death toll put at 10,000
19 Dec 99 |  Americas
In pictures: Venezuela's flood chaos

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