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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"Many thousands of families have been bereaved"
 real 28k

The BBC's Peter Greste
"The psychological damage will be hard to repair"
 real 28k

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"These disasters have been compounded by man-made mistakes"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 22 December, 1999, 01:38 GMT
50,000 feared dead in Venezuela

Navy Rescuers are working around the clock


The authorities in Venezuela say they now fear that up to 50,000 people may have been killed in the flooding and mudslides that have devastated the country - but they concede the true figure will never be known.

Venezuela Floods
A senior civil defence official said many bodies remain buried in the mud that swept through entire coastal communities, in what is being described as Latin America's worst natural disaster this century.

Almost a week after the flooding and landslides, which wiped out a 100km (60-mile) stretch of the country's Caribbean coast, the authorities are still rescuing survivors.

Burying the dead

President Hugo Chavez is urging them to leave the worst-hit areas, to avoid the health risks caused by the destruction of water and sewage facilities.

And, as rescuers continue to airlift survivors to safety, the authorities have begun burying the victims to prevent the spread of disease.

Scores of grave-diggers have been set to work in one of the cemeteries in the capital, Caracas.


President Chavez President Chavez visits a refugee centre
About 200,000 people have been left homeless and emergency shelters are now dangerously overcrowded.

The president has outlined plans for a huge rehabilitation effort to resettle the homeless. In the short-term, new homes will be built on military bases and farmland donated by landowners.

Emergency aid for Venezuela is gathering pace, with the International Red Cross appealing for more than $3m and the World Food Programme launching a big relief operation.

The Red Cross has also warned that, while there is enough food and medical supplies for the time being, the entire relief system is on the verge of collapse.

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

The minister in charge of the aid operation has said the aid already pledged is still not enough, as entire states will have to be re-built from scratch.

Looting

Bearing the brunt of the disaster was Vargas state, an area with a population of 350,000, an hour's drive from the capital, Caracas.

There, mudslides and raging rivers swept away shantytowns perched on steep slopes of the lush Avila mountain and left tall buildings marooned in a sea of rock-hard debris.

The head of the Civil Defence agency, Angel Rangel, has highlighted the case of Carmen de Uria, a community where only about 100 of the 3,000 homes were left standing.

Government officials said reconstruction would run into the billions of dollars and take several years. Economists predicted the disaster would aggravate a deep economic recession in the oil-rich country of 23 million.

Paratroopers have started to apprehend looters, who have been stealing from the dead and destitute.

Soldiers carrying semi-automatic weapons are scouring the desolate moonscape left by the avalanches of mud and rocks that buried most victims alive but left some gruesome corpses exposed to the tropical sun.




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See also:
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Disaster - but was it natural?
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
In pictures: Mudslide aftermath
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Analysis: Floods a test for Chavez
21 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Desperate tales from the disaster zone
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Net mobilises to help Venezuela
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Venezuela ambassador: We can't cope
21 Dec 99 |  Medical notes
Venezuela: The health risks
20 Dec 99 |  Americas
Victims tell of flood nightmare

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