Torrential rains leave 21 dead in Venezuela

Thousands have had to flee their homes as flooding and landslides continue to rack the country

Published November 30, 2010 10:43PM (EST)

Flooding and landslides unleashed by torrential rains have killed at least 21 people in Venezuela, forced thousands from their homes and idled an oil refinery.

The death toll rose on Tuesday as authorities confirmed eight additional deaths in Caracas and nearby states. Vice President Elias Jaua said there had been 21 deaths nationwide since Thursday and about 5,600 people fled their homes.

Gov. Henrique Capriles decreed a "state of alarm" in Miranda state, which includes parts of the capital, aiming to speed aid to flood victims. Capriles, speaking to Venezuelan television station Globovision, called on President Hugo Chavez to declare an emergency in the state.

Chavez has already declared an emergency in the western state of Falcon, which has been particularly hard hit, and the military has been dispatched to aid victims.

Officials said the storms caused a power outage Monday that stopped operations at the Cardon oil refinery in Falcon, and similar problems shut down some units at the adjacent Amuay refinery. Venezuela's state oil company said it had adequate supplies on hand and the problems would not affect fuel shipments.

The government says the heavy rains during November, which have continued past the usual end of the wet season, have caused troubles for more than 50,000 people nationwide.

Those killed in coastal Vargas state near Caracas included the head of the Vargas municipal council, Miguel Zavala, and a police inspector, who were swept away by a swollen river during the night, Gov. Jorge Garcia Carneiro told state television.

Flooding rivers and mudslides blocked the coastal highway in Vargas, and crews were working to reopen the road, Garcia Carneiro said.

Thousands were killed in the same area in December 1999 when floods and mudslides thundered down from the mountains in Vargas.

(This version CORRECTS that authorities say death toll is 21, not 30.)

By Fabiola Sanchez

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Latin America Natural Disasters