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Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 12:13 GMT
Desperate tales from the disaster zone

Huge numbers have been killed and many thousands made homeless Huge numbers have been killed and many thousands made homeless

Venezuelan newspapers are dominated by the chilling accounts of the human cost of the disaster.

One man sealed up in a basement in the town of Los Corales cried to a journalist in an exchange broadcast on radio.

"Don't leave me alone Cesar Miguel. Don't leave me alone," he told the reporter on a mobile phone.

Luis Landaeta, his wife and two children were trapped with six bodies, one of them that of his mother. He had found the mobile phone on one of the dead.

"I don't know what to do. My chest hurts... I'm desperate," the Caracas-based 'El Universal' quoted him as saying.

'Get us out of here'

"It's all just mud. My son is sleeping on mud."

But the journalists were unable to calm him down. "Please get us out of here. It's very dark," he cried.

The phone was then handed over to Luis' five-year-old son, Luis Eduardo, to speak to the radio station.

"Yes, I'm very calm," he said. "But my Daddy isn't."

President Hugo Chavez was brought in to talk to the stricken family over the airwaves.

"Be calm, brother. Be very calm," Chavez said.

"Good evening, Mr President," Luis replied. "Listen, I'm trapped, my children are here, my mother died about an hour ago.Tell the people coming to get us they have to bring tools to break down the walls."

The following day Luis called again. His wife, Rosa, had just died. By the time the newspaper went to press, the family had still not been rescued.

Noise of an aeroplane

Others were more fortunate than Luis. El Universal told how other Los Corales residents were able to save a priest and the 50 orphans he was looking after.

"They went down and broke a border railing and got them all out just before the water brought the place down," a witness told the paper.

She said three other people had been saved, two of them badly injured. They included a woman who had been dragged down from five blocks away, ending up naked on the beach with a blow to the head.

She added that the landslide had sounded like the "incessant noise of an aeroplane".

The paper also told of the lucky escape of Doris Segui and her family.

She said she and 20 neighbours had gathered in their ground-floor flat, where they thought they would be safe. But one of the women suddenly cried "Not here. Let's get out!"

Swept away

"We turned round and saw a wave of mud coming towards us," Doris told the paper.

"We ran to the third floor, but the woman, her husband and children decided to take another route. The river swept them away."

Some teenagers swimming in a nearby pool were also dragged away, she said.

"It all happened in 30 seconds.We were very lucky. We'll go back to start again."

House of cards

Meanwhile, as scores of churches were destroyed in the Vargas, 'La Hora Digital' quoted Archbishop of La Guaira Francisco de Guruceaga's comments.

"In one night everything collapsed like a house of cards," he said.

"Nature always reclaims its own, and we cannot repeat the same urban mistakes that brought us this disaster."

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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21 Dec 99 |  Americas
Venezuela pleads for aid
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