LAS TEJERÍAS, Venezuela (AP) — A landslide fueled by flooding and days of torrential rain swept through a town in central Venezuela, killing at least 22 as it dragged mud, rocks and trees in neighborhoods, authorities said on Sunday. Dozens of people are missing.
Residents of Las Tejerías in Santos Michelena, an agro-industrial town in Aragua state 87 kilometers southwest of Caracas, had just seconds to get to safety on Saturday night as debris tumbled down a mountain on them.
The official death toll rose to 22 after 20 bodies were recovered on Sunday, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez told state-owned Venezolana de Televisión.
“There was a large landslide in the central area of Las Tejerías” where five streams overflowed, she said from the scene of the disaster. “We have already found 22 dead; there are more than 52 missing.
“There are still people locked up,” Rodríguez said. “We are trying to save them, save them alive.”
She said shelters will be set up for people who have lost their homes.
Further up the mountainside, most homes were swept away, including those of a group of evangelicals who were praying when the landslide hit, said housewife Carmen Teresa Chirinos, a resident of Las Tejerías. . Tearful families hugged in front of destroyed homes and businesses.
“There are a lot of people missing,” Chirinos said.
A few hours earlier, Major General Carlos Pérez Ampueda, Deputy Minister of Risk Management and Civil Protection, had said via Twitter that several people were missing in the neighborhoods of El Béisbol and La Agotada, in the north of the city. Dozens of homes were damaged by the landslide.
Rescuers were carrying out search operations with trained dogs and drones, Pérez Ampueda said. Crews of workers and heavy machinery cleared debris to clear roads and restore power and water services.
“So many families have lost their homes and I, as a businessman, have lost my pizzeria,” said Luis Fuentes, who opened his pizzeria two years ago. “Look, I have nothing.”
Aragua Governor Karina Carpio said the floodwaters had “terribly affected” 21 sectors in Las Tejerías, capital of the municipality of Santos Michelena, which has some 54,000 inhabitants.
Over the past week, torrential rains have caused flooding in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states.
President Nicolás Maduro said 20,000 officials, including rescuers and members of the security forces, have been deployed to affected areas.
Associated Press reporters Jorge Rueda contributed reporting from Caracas and Matías Delacroix from Las Tejerías.
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