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The BBC's Richard Lister
"The recovery operation is not over yet"
 real 28k

Peter Greste reports from Caracas
"Early government estimates put the damage bill at $15bn"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 10:37 GMT
New powers for Venezuela president

Crash site A rescue helicopter crashed after hitting power lines


The Venezuelan president has been given sweeping powers to deal with the after-effects of devastating floods in which tens of thousands are believed to have died.

The country's constitutional assembly has agreed to give Hugo Chavez complete control over the reconstruction of Venezuela following its worst natural disaster.

Venezuela Floods
Up to 50,000 people may have been killed in the floods and mudslides, triggered by torrential rains, which struck last week and devastated a 100km (60 mile) stretch of the country's coast.

So far 1,500 bodies have been recovered. Venezuela has asked the US for 10,000 body bags, and neighbouring countries for more coffins.

Some 150,000 people were made homeless.


Chavez views a model of a housing project for survivors

The assembly appears to have backed President Chavez's ambitious plans to rehouse them inland, away from areas vulnerable to flooding.

"We have adopted a decree giving the government special powers to operate freely, using whatever means necessary, including the right to make all economic decisions, given our situation," said assembly president Luis Miquilena.

The bill to permanently rehouse the homeless and repair the country's devastated infrastructure is estimated to be $15bn.

It is more than Venezuela can afford, and much more than has been pledged in international aid.

The World Bank has offered $150m.

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

Infrastructure Minister Julio Montes said that the government would immediately spend $778m to repair damage to roads, electricity generation and water supply.


What $15bn buys
Public infrastructure
Relocation and housing
Roads
Electricity services
Drinking water
Telecommunications

Economist Jose Toro Hardy said: "The country has been left like a nation after a war.

"We need to stimulate all types of economic activity and make an immense reconstruction effort."

The Venezuelan authorities have been criticised for vastly underestimating the number of dead in the first few days after the disaster, thus damaging its ability to attract international aid.

'No Christmas'

The country still faces huge short-term problems in the aftermath of the floods.


Survivors in La Guaira with their remaining possessions

Search teams have wound down their efforts to find trapped survivors, but it is feared the total death toll will never be known.

Some areas were so devastated that recovering the dead proved to be impossible. Mr Chavez said such areas might be declared "memorial grounds".

Efforts to recover bodies were set back on Wednesday when two rescue helicopters crashed, killing at least four people. One had flown into overhead electrical wires.

Officials temporarily suspended flights in the area, fearing that pilots were becoming exhausted from days of intense relief efforts.


Even survivors are getting trapped in the mud

Mild rain has been predicted for the next three days, which could trigger more landslides in the water-logged country.

And fears of epidemics mounted as crowds packed emergency shelters and bodies remained unburied.

Survivor Enrique Gutierrez, 33, of Santa Barbara, said he had lost his home and livestock.

Waiting in line for food aid and fresh water, he said: "I sent my children to stay with relatives, I will spend the festive season starting to rebuild.

"For us here, there will be no Christmas."



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See also:
22 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Venezuelans 'more united than ever'
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Analysis: Floods a test for Chavez
23 Dec 99 |  Americas
Floods dash hopes for economic recovery
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Disaster - but was it natural?
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Venezuela ambassador: We can't cope
21 Dec 99 |  Medical notes
Venezuela: The health risks
22 Dec 99 |  Americas
World rallies to Venezuela's aid
22 Dec 99 |  Americas
50,000 feared dead in Venezuela

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