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Venezuela Flood Survivors Rally

June 16, 2000

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Residents of a Venezuelan state devastated by mudslides six months ago traveled by caravan to the capital Friday to urge the federal government to speed up stalled reconstruction efforts.

Hundreds of survivors from Vargas state, which suffered the most damage in the Dec. 15 tragedy, made the 20-mile trip to Caracas to plead for clean water, electricity, and new homes and roads.

Leg by Vargas Gov. Alfredo Laya, the group staged a protest march from the presidential palace to the Congress building.

In Venezuela’s worst disaster of the century, intense rains sent avalanches of earth, rocks and water sliding onto northern coastal towns along the Caribbean Sea, killing 15,000 people in Vargas.

Laya said the state must freeze its reconstruction efforts due to insufficient funding from the central government.

``Which are the homes that have been built in Vargas when everybody knows homes have not been built?″ Laya asked during the protest Friday. ``I tell the president you cannot govern a country with lies.″

President Hugo Chavez has dismissed the governor’s claims and insisted rebuilding will continue.

In a television interview, the head of the national civil defense agency, Angel Rangel, reminded Vargas residents that parts of the region remained vulnerable to future mudslides. Heavy rains in Caracas on Friday brought home that point.

Rangel said he regretted that some residents of the disaster zone had illicitly returned to areas and homes which the state had sealed off because of unstable construction and ground.

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