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Floods Sweep Through Northern Venezuela, At Least 400 Feared Dead

September 8, 1987

MARACAY, Venezuela (AP) _ Floodwaters swept away neighborhoods and villages in northern Venezuela and triggered landslides that buried hundreds of cars. Authorities said today that 150 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more missing.

Officials said that in the city of Maracay, the largest in the devastated area, at least 150 bodies had been recovered and about 250 people were missing.

About a half-dozen small towns between Maracay and the coast were demolished by floodwaters on Sunday and Monday after the Limon and Delicia rivers overflowed their banks following heavy rains, officials said.

There was no word on how many people died in the small towns or on the hilly highway that links Maracay with the beach resort of Ocumare. An estimated 200 cars, most filled with families, were buried by mud and rocks Sunday on a 3-mile stretch of the two-lane road.

Authorities said about 20,000 people were left homeless by the flooding, Venezuela’s worst in decades.

″I heard a sort of rumbling and a mountain began to slide down - mud, boulders, huge trees,″ said Luis Mora, who was driving his family back to Maracay after a weekend in Ocumare.

″Damages are unmeasurable. So is the number of lives taken away,″ said Interior Minister Jose Angel Ciliberto.

Not since an earthquake struck Caracas in 1967, killing 500 people, has a natural disaster claimed so many Venezuelan lives.

Rescue teams today searched for survivors on the Ocumare highway, where five bridges were destroyed, and in mud-drenched northern neighborhoods of Maracay, the nation’s fifth-largest city about 55 miles southwest of Caracas.

″The situation is really bad. People are coming in by foot on the Ocumare road. Six or seven towns were simply swept away,″ said Douglas Perez, a police officer in charge of a rescue mission squad, early today.

Military officials said civil defense forces, police and firefighters had been mobilized to rescue people stranded on the highway. A navy boat evacuated some of the 3,000 vacationers who had been stranded at Ocumare to nearby Puerto Cabello.

Helicopters evacuated the wounded, young and elderly.

Julian Garcia, president of the state legislature, called the floodwaters ″a devastating mighty torrent.″

President Jaime Lusinchi, who called the flooding a ″cosmic tragedy,″ said the Limon river had risen at five times its rainy season rate. He sent a delegation to the scene and was to survey the devastation later.

In some parts of Maracay, the state capital of 500,000 people, roofs were submerged before floodwaters began to subside Monday afternoon.

Boulders and uprooted 30-foot-long trees blocked streets.

Blocks of adobe homes were swept away by the flooding in the poor neighborhood of El Limon. In another Maracay neighborhood, El Progreso, about 200 homes collapsed. It was not clear whether the occupants escaped before floodwaters ravaged the areas.

Antonio Aranguren, governor of the Aragua state in which the rains occurred, said many of the homeless were being housed in military and police barracks.

Air force meteorologists said the heavy rains were caused by a tropical storm in the Caribbean to the north of Venezuela. They said more rain could be expected this week, but not as much as fell on Sunday.

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