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James Reynolds reports from Venezuela
"It was three days before they received any aid in some areas, even now they get very little"
 real 28k

The BBC's Peter Greste
"This month's floods and mudslides in Venezuela caused colossal damage and loss of life"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 29 December, 1999, 10:08 GMT
Venezuela disaster 'worst this century'

Car A man tries to pull his car from the mud


The Red Cross has said this month's devastating floods in Venezuela could be Latin America's worst natural disaster of the 20th century.

Venezuela Floods
George Weber, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said as many as 50,000 people may have been killed by mudslides and flash floods on Venezuela's Caribbean coast two weeks ago.

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

"All the figures I have received here say there were between 20,000 and 50,000 dead. There is no exact figure," he said after flying over some of the worst-hit areas.


US soldier US troops are helping with the relief effort
The Venezuelan authorities have previously put the death toll at 30,000, but the exact figure may never be known.

Most of the victims were buried under avalanches of mud, rocks and trees that crashed down a mountain range spreading havoc along a thin strip of the Caribbean coast, in Vargas state, just north of the Venezuelan capital Caracas.

Mr Weber said Venezuela's disaster was "certainly at least two or three times worse than Mitch as far as the death toll is concerned".

Hurricane Mitch battered Central America a year ago, killing at least 9,000 people.



They should shoot me if I have any possible responsibility in this
President Hugo Chavez
Venezuela's Foreign Minister, Jose Vicente Rangel, has rejected claims that the government ignored a civil defence report which had called for emergency measures on 15 December, the day the floods struck.

Critics say President Hugo Chavez ignored the worsening weather because he was distracted by a national referendum on a new constitution.

Such criticism was politically-motivated, Mr Rangel told the BBC.

President Chavez also rejected the charge on Monday, saying: "They should shoot me if I have any possible responsibility in this."

Two weeks after the disaster, the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas has partly resumed operations, and up to 40 international flights were expected to leave the airport on Tuesday.


The Red Cross plan is for immediate relief and long-term protection
With roads beginning to re-open, many of the previously deserted towns in the worst-hit state of Vargas, 50 km north of Caracas, were alive with activity on Tuesday.

Long traffic jams developed as the roads clogged with vehicles loaded with rescued or looted belongings.

As a result several roads were closed to all civilian vehicles not involved in road clearing or relief operations.

As the clean-up continues, the authorities are increasingly concerned over the health threat in areas where drinking water is scarce and the stench of decay fills the air.

Emergency teams fear disease could spread rapidly in the worst-hit areas along the northern Venezuelan coast.

Rats

Pamphlets warning people of the dangers of drinking contaminated water have been dropped by helicopters.

There is also concern about the risk of cholera and malaria epidemics and leptosirosis, which is carried by rats.

Some 140,000 people left homeless by the floods remain in emergency shelters.

One woman, who identified herself as Zuleima, said: "We are scared of disease but what can we do, where can we go."




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See also:
24 Dec 99 |  Americas
President's gift to flood children
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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