The Miami Herald
December 17, 1999
Rains trigger flash floods, mudslides in Venezuela
100 feared dead, 120,000 are evacuated
100 feared dead as rains continue


 CARACAS -- Calamitous rains pelted Venezuela on Thursday for a third straight
 day, triggering flash floods and mudslides that isolated coastal towns, forced
 120,000 Venezuelans from their homes and killed as many as 100 people.

 Security forces patrolled the mud-filled streets of Caracas to halt scattered looting
 and rescue thousands of people from flooded buildings. The city lies in a
 mountain-ringed valley 3,000 feet high.

 At least 15,000 people lost their homes, authorities said, and dozens of towns
 and villages were cut off by new torrential rains.

 ``It is believed that there are approximately 100 people dead,'' said presidential
 advisor Luis Miquilena.

 Venezuela's rainy season normally ends in November and the downpours stunned
 the nation with a catastrophe that appeared to grow by the hour. Caracas Mayor
 Antonio Ledezma said the rains were the heaviest in 60 years.

 The disaster shut down Caracas' Simon Bolivar International Airport on the coast
 several miles north of the city, closed schools and most businesses in the capital
 and flooded parts of the subway system, which normally transports one million
 people a day.

 Torrents of water raged down El Avila Mountain overlooking Caracas and smashed
 into homes and parked cars, flooding underpasses and filling basement parking
 garages with thick mud. Mangled bits of furniture and tree trunks littered many
 city intersections.

 National guard troops ordered the evacuation of shantytowns clinging to hillsides
 and bordering gullies.

 ``If you live near water, get away,'' Defense Minister Raul Salazar said. ``Get
 somewhere high, because if your house is in the water's path, it can be swept

 Salazar said rescue efforts were hindered by continuing heavy rains, which he
 said might not subside for another 48 hours.

 ``There are 12 helicopters rescuing people. The problem is the weather. The rain
 lessens and lets us work for 10 minutes, then comes pouring down again,'' he

 About 50,000 phone lines were reported downed, and power was out in parts of
 the capital and along much of the northern coast.

 ``The situation is serious. We cannot deny it,'' said Deputy Interior Minister Alexis
 Aponte, who asked residents to stay in their homes ``given that the situation
 remains highly dangerous.''

 Authorities declared a disaster in the states of Vargas, Carabobo, Nueva Esparta,
 Falcon, Sucre, Zulia, Miranda and Yaracuy, as well as in the federal district
 encompassing Caracas.

 The worst-hit area appeared to be La Guaira, a region along the Atlantic shore
 next to the coastal mountains of El Avila national park. Television images showed
 raging rivers pouring down ravines in La Guaira, 18 miles north of Caracas. Mud
 rose to the second floors of some high-rises, trapping residents inside.

                     Copyright 1999 Miami Herald