At least 22 dead as rain-fuelled landslide wrecks Venezuelan town

A landslide fuelled by flooding and days of torrential rain swept through a municipality in central Venezuela, leaving at least 22 people dead as it dragged mud, rocks and trees through neighbourhoods, authorities said Sunday. Dozens of people are missing.

Residents of Las Tejerias in Santos Michelena, an agro-industrial town in Aragua state 87 kilometres southwest of the capital Caracas, had just seconds to reach safety late Saturday as debris swept down a mountainside onto them.

The official death toll rose to 22 after the recovery of 20 bodies on Sunday, Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez told state-owned Venezolana de Television.

“There was a large landslide in the central area of Las Tejerias” where five streams overflowed, she said from the scene of the disaster. “We have already found 22 dead people; there are more than 52 missing.”

Residents cross a bridge damaged by flooding caused by a river that overflowed after days of intense rain in Las Tejerias on Sunday. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Pres)

“There are still people walled in,” Rodriguez said. “We are trying to rescue them, to rescue them alive.”

She said shelters will be set up for people who lost their homes.

Rains cause flooding in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states

Hours earlier, Major Gen. Carlos Perez Ampueda, the vice minister for risk management and civil protection, had said via Twitter that several people were reported missing in the El Beisbol and La Agotada neighbourhoods in the north of the town. Dozens of homes were damaged by the landslide.

A man reunites with his dog, rescued by neighbours from the mud, after flooding caused by intense rains in Las Tejerias. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

Rescuers were carrying out search operations with trained dogs and drones, Perez Ampueda said. Crews of workers and heavy machinery removed debris to clear roads and restore electricity and water services.

Aragua Gov. Karina Carpio said the floodwaters “terribly affected” 21 sectors in Las Tejerias, capital of the Santos Michelena municipality, which has some 54,000 inhabitants.

During the past week, torrential rains have caused flooding in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states.

President Nicolas Maduro said 20,000 officials, including rescuers and members of security forces, have been deployed to affected regions.

Men carry a dog rescued from the mud after flooding caused by intense rains in Las Tejerias. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

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