A landslide triggered by flooding and days of torrential rain swept through a city in central Venezuela, leaving at least 22 people dead as it dragged mud, rocks and trees into neighborhoods, authorities said Sunday. Dozens of people are missing.
Residents of Las Tejerías in Santos Michelena, an agro-industrial town in Aragua state, 54 miles (87 kilometers) southwest of Caracas, had just seconds to reach safety late Saturday as debris swept down a mountainside above them.
The official death toll rose to 22 after 20 bodies were recovered on Sunday, Vice President Delci Rodriguez told state-run Venezolana de Televisión.
“There was a big landslide in the central area of Las Tejerías” where five streams overflowed, he said from the scene of the disaster. “We have already found 22 dead; there are more than 52 missing.”
“There are still people fenced in,” Rodriguez said. “We’re trying to save them, save them alive.”
He said shelters would be set up for people who lost their homes.
Higher up the mountainside, most houses were washed away, including those of a group of Evangelicals who were praying when the landslide hit, said homemaker Carmen Teresa Chirinos, a resident of Las Tejerías. Tearful families hugged in front of destroyed homes and businesses.
“There are a lot of missing people,” Chirinos said.
Hours earlier, Major General Carlos Pérez Ampueda, undersecretary of risk management and civil protection, had reported on Twitter that many people were missing in the El Béisbol and La Agotada districts in the north of the city. Dozens of houses 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 removed the debris to clear roads and restore power and water services.
“So many families lost their homes and I, as a businessman, lost my pizzeria,” said Luis Fuentes, who opened his pizzeria two years ago. “Look, I have nothing.”
Aragua Governor Karina Carpio said floodwaters “terribly affected” 21 sectors in Las Tejerías, capital of the municipality of Santos Michelena, which has about 54,000 residents.
Last week, torrential rains caused flooding in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states.
President Nicolas Maduro said 20,000 officials, including rescuers and members of the security forces, had been deployed to the affected areas.