BY TIM JOHNSON
CARACAS -- Calamitous rains pelted Venezuela on Thursday for a
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,''
advisor Luis Miquilena.
Venezuela's rainy season normally ends in November and the downpours
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
into homes and parked cars, flooding underpasses and filling basement parking
garages with thick mud. Mangled bits of furniture and tree trunks littered many
National guard troops ordered the evacuation of shantytowns clinging
and bordering gullies.
``If you live near water, get away,'' Defense Minister Raul Salazar
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
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,
Falcon, Sucre, Zulia, Miranda and Yaracuy, as well as in the federal district
The worst-hit area appeared to be La Guaira, a region along the
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