Homes and businesses were destroyed, mudslides and trees uprooted… At least 22 people died and 52 were missing after a landslide late Saturday afternoon in the industrial city of Las Tejerias in central Venezuela.
Heavy rains that fell weeks ago killed 13 people across the country.
“Five streams overflowed and (…) we are seeing very great damage here, casualties: so far, we have already found 22 dead, more than 52 people are missing,” according to the first assessment of the Venezuelan deputy. President Delcy Rodriguez.
And in Las Tijerias, the tragedy came three hours after a torrential rain began on Saturday afternoon. Several rivers swept their banks and swept land, rocks and trees from the foothills of the mountains that border the city of about 50,000 people.
The city, located about fifty kilometers southwest of Caracas, now has a spooky appearance with destroyed homes and businesses and mud that has invaded the streets.
Trees and giant cars were swept away, now dotted over the main road, littered with bits of wood, sheet metal, and other debris.
“The city is lost, Las Tijrias is lost,” says Carmen Melendez, who has lived there for 55 years.
Loris Verenzuela, 50, cries as he contemplates the scale of the disaster:. “I never thought that something this big could happen, it is so powerful!”
President Nicolás Maduro declared three days of national mourning “in solidarity with the families” and promised residents that they “are not alone!”.
Thousands of people are taking part in rescue operations, Interior and Justice Minister Remigio Ceballos told AFP, who went there to assess the damage.
“There has been a major landslide as a result of climate change,” the minister said, attributing the rainfall to Hurricane Julia’s passage northward into Venezuela.
During his visit, Mr. Ceballos Ichisu explained that a “record amount of rain” fell on the city, stressing that the average volume of water falling in one month decreased in one day. “These torrential rains covered the land,” the minister added.
On Sunday, teams of workers equipped with machines cleared roads covered in mud and debris. In images taken by drones used by rescue teams, large amounts of mud and dirt can be seen covering several streets in Las Tijerias, as residents were trying to shovel tons of mud from homes.
Carmen, worried, awaits news of Margot Silva, a missing relative. She lives in a nearby town and travels to Las Tejerias to run errands.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen something like this, we know we’ll get through it, but we are sorry for the loss of life,” Carmen told AFP.
On social networks, many people offer their help, and the major baseball club in Caracas Los Leones indicated that it organized a batch of non-perishable food, mineral water and clothes for the victims.
Opponent Juan Guaido estimated on Twitter that it was necessary to support the victims and “respond to the emergency”, criticizing “a dictatorship that seizes power without worrying about the people”.
In 1999, massive landslides claimed 10,000 lives in Vargas state, 25 kilometers north of Caracas.
“Total coffee aficionado. Travel buff. Music ninja. Bacon nerd. Beeraholic.”