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The BBC's James Reynolds
"The first moment of happiness in days"
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The BBC's James Reynolds
"President Chavez moved by the world's response"
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Saturday, 25 December, 1999, 09:55 GMT
President's gift to flood children

President Chavez President Chavez: Christmas cheer among the destruction

Hundreds of children believed to have been orphaned by the devastating floods in Venezuela have received Christmas presents from their president.

Hugo Chavez distributed the gifts at the Poliedro sports arena in Caracas.

Venezuela Floods
He promised to build homes and find new jobs for those who have seen their homes and livelihoods destroyed by the storms.

The president said he planned to provide land for them in the interior.

He said: "Instead of living in misery on the banks of rivers, we will live in the south, we will produce, we will live with education, with health, with work, with homes, with dignity."

I'm not Father Christmas, I'm Father Hugo
President Chavez

In the capital, Christmas parties are being organised for the estimated 150,000 people in emergency accommodation.

Mr Chavez said Venezuela was now receiving sufficient international support and he expressed his appreciation to the world's response to the country's disaster.

"Never before has Christmas been celebrated amid such a great tragedy," Mr Chavez said. "Yet, never before have we had a Christmas eve with such a feeling of solidarity."

Rebuilding begins

The Venezuelan authorities plan to reopen the main airport in Caracas on Sunday as the country begins to rebuild after the floods which have left 250,000 people homeless.

The Red Cross plan is for immediate relief and long-term protection

Workers are starting to reconstruct some of the main roads damaged by mudslides.

The government hopes it will help attempts to get much needed food, medicines and drinking water to some of the more remote areas affected by the flooding.

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

Many people have refused to leave such areas in order to protect their property from possible looters.

President Chavez has ordered 6,000 troops to live temporarily in flood-hit neighbourhoods, partly to curb thieving.

Red Cross three-point plan
Stage 1: immediate recovery
Stage 2: support for shattered communities
Stage 3: flood prevention
He said soldiers and thieves had exchanged gunfire in at least one community.

The Red Cross, meanwhile, has announced an ambitious three-part plan to help up those left without homes.

Its officials say the plan, which would take many months but is aimed at preventing such a disaster happening again, could cost up to $3.5m.

The first stage of the Red Cross plan, immediate recovery, comes to an end next week.

The second stage, a series of community support programmes including mental and physical health projects, is due to begin in January and last for three months.

Finally, the Red Cross will work on prevention projects designed to try to stop heavy rains from causing such damage in the future.

Many areas are unsearchable and will be consecrated
The structure of the plan echoes efforts made by the Venezuelan authorities, who said on Thursday that the phase of rescuing stranded survivors by helicopter and ship had ended.

Soldiers are now concentrating on clearing roads to allow emergency workers to get to cut-off communities.

The authorities then plan a massive reconstruction programme to rehouse the homeless and rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure.

'20,000 buried'

It is still not known how many perished in the mud and landslides, which hit a 60-mile stretch of the country's coast last week, but officials have estimated the final death toll will reach 20-30,000.

Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said on Thursday that between 15,000 and 20,000 bodies remained buried "under eight to 10 metres of mud and rocks".

Many areas are so devastated as to be deemed unsearchable. Instead, the bodies will be left and the land will be consecrated.

Meanwhile, the authorities are continuing to look for decent temporary accommodation for the survivors.

The most pressing crisis - drinkable water for the survivors - was eased slightly on Thursday by the arrival of two huge water-purifying machines from the US, which can purify more than 3,100 gallons an hour.

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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
23 Dec 99 |  Americas
Europe pledges flood relief aid

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