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BBC's David Shukman
"Catastrophe was in the making and no-one was prepared for it"
 real 28k

The BBC's Richard Lister
"Children are begging for water in the street"
 real 28k

Venezuelan Ambassador Roy Chaderton-Matos
"This is a tragedy"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 12:46 GMT
Venezuela pleads for aid

The Navy The navy has been sent in to rescue survivors

Venezuela has made an urgent appeal for aid to as it struggles to cope with the flood disaster which has claimed between 10,000 and 25,000 lives.

Venezuela Floods
A massive rescue operation is under way as the full extent of the devastation caused by two weeks of torrential rain becomes apparent.

The Venezuelan Government says that up to 25,000 may have died in the floods and landslides that have brought havoc to the entire coastal zone.

An estimated 150,000 people have been left homeless, as whole towns along the Caribbean coast were wiped out.

A survivor with her children An estimated 150,000 people have been made homeless

Reporting from the disaster zone, BBC correspondent Peter Greste says the wildly varying casualty figures indicate the chaos and confusion on the ground, and the scale of the problems facing the authorities.

Click here to see a map of the flood-affected areas

Some heart-breaking stories have already emerged from survivors and those trapped in buildings.

One newspaper told how a man trapped with his family, some of them dead, called a radio station on a mobile phone.

As he pleaded for help the country's President Hugo Chavez came on the line to urge him to stay calm.

The Venezuelan ambassador in London, Roy Chaderton-Matos, told the BBC that Venezuela was unable to cope with the scale of the disaster which he described as both bleak and beyond the worst nightmares of the Venezuelan people.

Most of the victims were buried under tonnes of mud, rocks and tree trunks. Some were swept out to sea as mountainsides came crashing through towns, ripping up everything in their path.

The government has urged people to open their doors to refugees The government has urged people to open their doors to refugees
People are still streaming out of the worst-hit coastal areas, which are now uninhabitable, in search of food, water and shelter.

The capital, Caracas, is one of the worst hit areas, along with the provinces of Vargas, Zulia and Miranda.

Nine northern states and the capital have been declared disaster areas and correspondents say the government is unable to cope with the size of the operation.

The priority is to get people out of the affected areas, and helicopters are running an almost non-stop shuttle throughout daylight hours. The government has sent naval ships to rescue the stranded.

Threat of disease

President Hugo Chavez has urged people not affected by the floods to open their doors to refugees, as emergency shelters in Caracas and other major towns are overwhelmed by the numbers seeking help.

Mr Chavez has made the presidential residence available to children whose parents are missing.

He also appealed to survivors to leave the worst affected areas to avoid the health risks.

Beyond the worst nightmares of the Venezuelan people
Venezuelan ambassador Roy Chaderton-Matos
The BBC's correspondent says there is also an urgent need to deal with the dead because of the threat of disease.

"There are bodies in the sea, bodies buried under the mud, bodies everywhere," Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said.

International aid

"There are areas covered in as much as seven metres of earth. We will never know exactly how many people died there," Mr Rangel told Union Radio.

Venezuela is being offered millions of dollars - including $3m pledged by the US - and tonnes of food and medicine to help survivors. But Mr Rangel has said much more is needed.

Officials predict that entire states will have to be rebuilt from scratch. They say that even those homes that are still standing will have to be bulldozed because it is simpler than trying to clear away the mud from beneath them.

Supply planes, helicopters, soldiers and medics have arrived from the US, Mexico and Cuba, and other countries have pledged aid.

Election threat

In another development, Venezuelan officals have warned that the disaster could force the postponement of general elections due to be held next month, following the approval last week of a new constitution.

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See also:
21 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Desperate tales from the disaster zone
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Venezuela ambassador: We can't cope
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
In pictures: Desperation after the mudslides
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Net mobilises to help Venezuela
21 Dec 99 |  Medical notes
Venezuela: The health risks
20 Dec 99 |  Americas
Victims tell of flood nightmare
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Chavez: Hero or demagogue?

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