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Jane Peel in Caracas
"Venezuela could not survive this crisis without international aid"
 real 28k

The BBC's James Reynolds
"The relief and reconstruction effort still has a long way to go here"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 16:41 GMT
Europe pledges flood relief aid

Venezuela soldier A soldier keeps an orderly queue for relief aid

Europe has given a financial boost to Venezuela's efforts to rebuild following last week's devastating floods.

Venezuela Floods
Facing a death toll of up to 50,000, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez needs an estimated $15bn to help re-house around 150,000 people and build a new infrastructure.

Now Spain has announced it is to offer a $100m, zero-interest loan repayable over 35 years with a 14-year grace period.

Humanitarian aid

The move came only hours after the European Union pledged $3.2m in humanitarian aid, offering direct assistance to European Red Cross organisations.

The World Bank has also offered $150m.

As part of emergency government measures President Chavez has been granted sweeping new powers to deal with the after-effects of the floods and landslides which swept away entire communities along a 60-mile coastal region.

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

Venezuela's constitutional assembly has given him complete control over the reconstruction programme with Infrastructure Minister Julio Montes announcing that $778m was being released to repair roads, and restore electricity generation and water supply.

Refugees Refugees wear face masks to avoid disease
But with plans to move a major portion of the population inland and away from flood-prone areas, the country still has a significant need for extra funds.

With the death toll continuing to mount, Venezuela has also had to resort to issuing a grim plea for body bags and coffins as efforts to dispose of the dead falter under the sheer pressure of numbers.

Risk of epidemic

In some areas, rescue workers are having to cover their faces to avoid the stench of rotting corpses and authorities are warning that cholera and hepatitis epidemics may follow.

The immediate relief effort has taken one step forward with the arrival of water-purifying equipment donated by France and the US.

And at an airport in the coastal city of La Guaira, hundreds of people queued up after hearing the government would be distributing toys in time for Christmas.

Felina Figueroa, a 30-year-old mother-of-two, began her wait at 0530, even though she was unsure of what was being distributed.

"They're saying they're going to give out toys. This line must be for something," she said.

"I'm sad because Baby Jesus hasn't given me anything. There is nowhere to go to buy anything.

"Venezuelan children are told that both Santa Claus and Baby Jesus bring Christmas gifts."

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See also:
23 Dec 99 |  Americas
Floods dash hopes for economic recovery
22 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Venezuelans 'more united than ever'
23 Dec 99 |  World
In pictures: Venezuela's devastation
23 Dec 99 |  Americas
New powers for Venezuela president
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Analysis: Floods a test for Chavez
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Disaster - but was it natural?
21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Venezuela ambassador: We can't cope
22 Dec 99 |  Americas
50,000 feared dead in Venezuela

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