Venezuelan authorities said on Sunday that at least 25 people had died and another 52 were missing due to rising rivers, in what the vice president called a tragedy in a region southwest of Caracas.
Due to the downpours, the flow of five streams or small rivers increased in the town of Tejerías, in the state of Aragua, about 67 kilometers southwest of the Venezuelan capital, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez said in statements released by the official television station.
Later, the vice president of the Citizen Security area, Remigio Ceballos, said on state television that after eight o’clock at night the death toll was 25, while 52 people were still missing.
The waters dragged large tree trunks, roots and material from the mountains near the town on Saturday night, damaging businesses and also peasant crops, added the official from a swamped street in Tejerías.
He did not offer a number of injured and said that the priority of the authorities was to find the missing and walled up under the mud and rocks in different parts of the town. He added that members of the military and rescue forces were also checking the riverbanks for survivors.
“We have lost boys, girls, too. All very unfortunate (…) What has happened in the central town of Rejerías is a tragedy,” said the vice president.
President Nicolás Maduro said in a message on his Twitter account (NYSE: TWTR ) that he had declared the area a disaster zone and three days of mourning.
The streets of Tejerías, a town of about 73,000 inhabitants, were muddy and with the remains of large rocks and logs on the roads, houses completely or partially boarded up, according to Reuters witnesses.
Armando Escalona, a 43-year-old taxi driver, said he was with his family at an evangelical church when the flood caught them. He added that he managed to hug them and hold on for a bit, but something hit him in the head, he doesn’t know what, and he passed out. When he woke up he said that he didn’t know what happened to his wife and his son.
“I lost my wife and my 5-year-old son. I can’t even speak. We were at the service and everything happened so fast, it happened and that’s it,” he said.
Gustavo Arévalo, a 58-year-old merchant who is also a volunteer for the Civil Defense Corps, said that on Saturday around six in the afternoon “everything started, in a matter of a few minutes the water level rose.”
“The telephone antenna (of the town) fell down. It rained, the water passed, it went down, it did the damage and that’s it. As if there had been a dammed up water that was released,” added Arévalo in a sector of the central town of Tejerías, one of the hardest hit areas.
After the passage of the water, “we began to help people (…) protect what was left of the businesses, that looked like a blender spinning in the water,” he said, noting that all the objects from different businesses were found scattered together.
The vice president pointed out that it rained the average amount of water for a month on Saturday in 8 hours and that the flood was so strong that it dragged the submersible pumps that feed the Tejerías drinking water system.
He indicated that the rains have also caused damage, such as landslides in avenues and streets, in the last few hours in three other states in the center-west of the country, but without victims.
The authorities have warned about the heavy downpours in recent weeks due to the passage of tropical waves, which have left 40 dead until today and including the victims of Tejerías.