Venezuela Responds to “Heaviest Rains in Over 40 Years”

Venezuela’s national government on Tuesday extended to four states the emergency decreed 10 days ago in response to torrential rains that have battered the country since early November. According to the presidential commission assigned to manage the storm’s affects on Venezuela’s people and its infrastructure, almost 11,000 security forces are currently mobilized to help with emergency measures.

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"They told me that some don't want to leave [this town] until the president comes, well here I am," said president Chavez this afternoon, urging residents to evacuate before more rain comes (Prensa presidencial).
"They told me that some don't want to leave [this town] until the president comes, well here I am," said president Chavez this afternoon, urging residents to evacuate before more rain comes (Prensa presidencial).
By Juan Reardon – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Mérida, December 1st 2010 (Venezuelanalsysi.com)  Venezuela’s national government on Tuesday extended to four states the emergency decreed 10 days ago in response to torrential rains that have battered the country since early November. According to the presidential commission assigned to manage the storm’s affects on Venezuela’s people and its infrastructure, almost 11,000 security forces are currently mobilized to help with emergency measures, including food aid distribution, evacuations, housing shelter management and road repairs. According to Spain’s El País news source, as of Tuesday night the storm’s death toll reached 29 people, including several children. 

Due to dangerous conditions provoked by the storms, the states of Vargas, Miranda and the Capital District of Caracas joined Falcon yesterday in the government-decreed state of emergency.

According to weather experts at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), this November’s rains were the heaviest seen in Venezuela in over 40 years. Rain is expected to continue for the next 48 hours.

Vice President Elias Jaua confirmed on Tuesday that rains have forced some 5,500 people to flee their homes and that an additional 56,000 have been negatively affected. Jaua also announced the suspension of classes at all levels of education in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states so as to “protect Venezuela’s children” and “allow rescue teams greater movement on roads into flooded areas.”

As of Wednesday morning, over 33,000 people have been attended by the government’s emergency support services, with a total of 259 refuge centers currently providing government-managed emergency shelter. In addition, several dozen schools opened their doors to rain victims as temporary residences and private hotels in and around the Caracas area ceded some 850 rooms to the government’s emergency housing efforts.

Of the 10,988 security forces mobilized to assist in aid efforts, 5,000 are members of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, 2,331 are volunteers of the Bolivarian Militia and 3,657 are of the Civil Protection Services.

President Hugo Chávez on Sunday offered Miraflores Presidential Palace as a “symbolic” place of refuge for 100 people, or 26 families. “Today I have ordered that they move to Miraflores…where we recently built rooms, small residential units, for the comrades of the security [staff],” said Chávez who cancelled his weekly television address to visit affected areas of Falcon state.

Over half of those affected by rains, 35,000 people, live in western Falcon state. Hotel Venetur, in the area of Tucaca of Falcon, opened its doors to hundreds of families.

Venezuela’s Ministry of Science and Technology informed residents of Falcon state that all users of Movilnet cell phone services received a one-time supplement of 25 bolivars of cell phone credit as well as 50 free text messages so as to communicate with their families. The Ministry also informed residents that, as of December 1st, all public phones in the state will allow callers three minutes of free calling time.

Nationwide, 112 roads have been damaged and transit is limited as a result. Jaua on Wednesday called for drivers from eastern Venezuela to avoid heading towards Caracas, unless absolutely necessary. These roads, according to Jaua are being repaired “by 220 machines sent out by the government, with the support of the private sector.”

Oil refineries in Zulia state suffered electrical shortages as a result of the storms, though Venezuela’s state-owned firm PDVSA confirmed that “gasoline supplies to the national and international markets are guaranteed.”

In Miranda, an important source of agricultural production for the population of Caracas, 66,000 hectares of agricultural lands have been flooded.

Venezuela’s Maiquetia International Airport this week was forced to defer a number of international flights to smaller, less-affected airports while a number of both national and international flights have been cancelled. 

“Regrettably in Venezuela we don’t have a preventative culture,” said Víctor Lira, Director of Venezuela’s Civil Protection Services. “[A culture] that first investigates, does the corresponding studies, before placing residential units on unstable grounds.”

“Because there aren’t sufficient housing solutions for the people, the people look for solutions on their own account,” affirmed Lira. “For this reason people tend to invade terrains, they weaken protective soil cover, they build on anything, there is no management of residential waters, and all these are factors that add up.”

On Wednesday, as Chávez received 26 affected families at Miraflores Palace, he called on all Venezuelans, including ministers, governors and mayors, to open their homes to flood victims.

“This is a national emergency, and it is time to leave aside personal comforts, egoisms, and open our hearts and homes to our fellow Venezuelans,” said Chávez on Venezuela de Television (VTV). He also called on the offices of the vice presidency, publicly owned Channel 8 and other government-owned buildings to remodel one floor of each building for emergency housing. Chávez assured the families that within one year they will leave Miraflores and move directly into their own homes or apartments.

Venezuela’s National Assembly on Tuesday approved the first of two drafts of the Emergency Law for Housing and Urban Terrain which, according to the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN), allows the State to “decree the creation of emergency zones for the occupation of urban terrain apt for housing.” If and when this new law is passed, lands that are either “unused or underutilized” – including a number of extensive golf courses located near major highways outside of Caracas referred to by Chávez last Sunday – become possible targets for expropriation.

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