A landslide in Venezuela has left at least 25 people dead and more than 50 missing after a river overflowed, officials said Sunday, in the latest deadly disaster caused by heavy rains to hit the country.
Houses and businesses were destroyed in the Saturday night deluge, which left the town of Las Tejerias covered with mud and debris, including felled trees, household items and mangled cars.
“We are seeing very significant damage here, human losses,” Vice President Delcy Rodriguez told local media at the scene.
Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos said at least 25 people had died in the disaster as he gave an updated toll on government television VTV late Sunday.
“Unfortunately so far we have 25 people who were recovered dead,” he said. “We also have 52 missing,” he said, adding that search efforts were continuing.
Dozens of people have died in recent months in the crisis-hit South American nation as a result of historically high levels of rain.
“The village is lost. Las Tejerias is lost,” 55-year-old resident Carmen Melendez, who has lived her whole life in the town 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital, Caracas, told AFP.
Around a thousand people had joined the rescue efforts, Interior and Justice Minister Remigio Ceballos told AFP, as he worked at the site.
Residents dug through the remains of battered homes looking for loved ones, while search teams arrived with dogs hoping to find survivors trapped in the rubble.
A butcher shop that had closed due to the pandemic and which was due to reopen Monday was buried in muddy sediment that caked the refrigerators and everything else inside.
“We were waiting for the meat to be shipped in — to start after two years closed,” said Ramon Arvelo, one of the workers who was helping remove mud.
“I never thought that something of this magnitude could happen; it’s a really big deal,” said Loryis Verenzuela, 50, as she looked out at the devastation through tears.
“We had a huge landslide as a result of the changing climate,” Ceballos said, referring to the effects of Hurricane Julia, which passed just north of Venezuela the night before.
“There was a record rainfall,” he added as he surveyed the disaster site — as much rain in one day as is usually seen in a month.
“These strong rains saturated the ground,” he said.
Images taken by rescue team drones showed huge amounts of earth piled up in the streets as residents had tried to shovel out the meters of mud that flowed into their houses.
Las Tejerias resident Jose Santiago spent 40 minutes clinging to an antenna while the huge flood dragged several houses along in the mud, including his own.
“The river caught me and I couldn’t find anything to do besides climb a roof and grab onto an antenna,” the 65-year-old recounted. “I was reborn!”
President Nicolas Maduro declared three days of national mourning for the victims, while Venezuelans took to social media to offer assistance to the town, where electricity and communications have now been cut off.
Caracas baseball team Los Leones said they would organize a collection for the victims, asking for “non-perishable foods, water and clothes.”
The landslide, caused by the biggest river flood in the area in 30 years, is the worst so far this year in Venezuela, which has seen historic rain levels in recent months.
In August, at least 15 people died in the Venezuelan Andes after heavy rains triggered mud and rock slides.
And in September, at least eight people died when floods from intense rains flowed through a religious retreat in the western part of the country.
In 1999, huge landslides killed some 10,000 people in the state of Vargas, north of Caracas.