Quote survivor, L. Herman (in Spanish):
"It looked like a monster, a wave which ate everything. The neighbours were screaming for help and then they were swallowed up. Houses, walls, complete buildings were taken away by the mud. Everything disappeared. It was seven or eight o'clock in the morning. We never thought such a thing could happen.

02.39 Ariel View

Venezuela is a country in mourning. In December weeks of continual rain caused a massive avalanche of mud to sweep through towns and villages along the vulnerable coastline. It's now estimated to have claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people, some say 50 000.

The residents on this street in Carmen de Uria were taken by surprise. Buried beneath a thick layer of mud and rubble, some of their bodies will never be excavated.


Quote survivor, L. Herman (in Spanish):
"We didn't know what to do. It was an unchained monster. It was unpredictable. Terrible. We survived it by a miracle. He lost his whole family: his father, his mother, his brothers, everyone. We can’t bear so much pain. Our eyes are full of tears. I don't know what to do any further. We are waiting for God's help."

Army Helicopter
Venezuela is ill prepared to deal with the aftermath. With up to 400 000 left homeless the government has a massive task on it's hands. The army is doing what it can but many ordinary people have still not received any help.

Quote man:

"The people expect help but don't get it. The aid is only given to places where there are most people. And areas like the airport and government offices but the authorities are not present here. I'm not talking about the army or about the soldiers. I'm talking about the government: the politicians maybe even the president.


On the holiday-island of Aruba a Dutch aircraft is loaded with supplies. It's some of the first overseas aid to arrive in Venezuela.

From Aruba it's 30 minutes by plane and one of the few open aid routes into the country. Sensitive to outside criticism the Venezuelan government has restricted access to the disaster area.

On the airport runway at Maiquetia near the capital Caracas international doner forces takes responsibility for the newly arrived aid. From here the supplies will be taken into the worst hit areas.

Quote Esther van Dijk, Dutch Royal Navy, Naval Air Service (Dutch):

"We mainly brought water and milk. It's the first thing we generally deliver. Another plane delivered diapers and that kind of thing, first-aid-goods.


The following day the aid is taken into the remote regions most affected by the flooding. Diplomatic officials, including Dutch Robert Brinks, travel with the convey to witness the devastation first hand. As they approach the site from the air, the spectacle of sea containers strewn willy nilly across the landscape is testament to the ferocity of the mud slide. The town of Carmen de Uria was once a densely populated community. Today nothing moves.

Quote Robert Brinks:
Dutch Embassy
"I think with their houses flooded with mud and stones most people were standing on the roofs. They didn't realise that they should find a safer place. And in the end they were dragged along and buried."

Further, along the coast lie the remains of Caraballeda. This was a tourist city known for it's luxurious hotels and expensive apartments but it too was swept away by the avalanche of mud. Now there are many reminders of the people that once lived here but few survivors. The city lies in tatters a silent and eerie monument to the thousands that died.

Quote survivor, man:

"The mud-avalanche came in rivers. In the places where there were no rivers, there were wide, swirling masses of water which dragged everything along. Many of us saw, with pain in our hearts, people being dragged along. We saw 2a house floating with people on the roof and we couldn't do anything. Women were dragged along by the stream. It rained for fifteen days here, starting on the first of December. We helped people who were threatened by the water. We saved people and furniture. But it was in vain. In the end everything was dragged away. Then on the 15th and 16th of December it began raining even more heavily. We didn't know what was happening."

Quote survivor, woman:

"The night was terrible. We did survive, because we climbed up the mountain. Otherwise we'd be dead, really terrible. The swirling rivers dragged everything along. The mud-avalanche which came from the mountain drove my husband and me to take our children to a higher area. My feet are damaged, but we managed to save our food."

The survivors are clinging on. This group has taken shelter in an unfinished block of apartments. Many residents have refused to be evacuated by the army. They say they'd rather stay near their homes.
Quote man:

The people have lived here their whole lives. Many factories in which people have a job were swept away. I don't know where my boss lives. I don't know where I can collect my salary. I have, in fact, been thrown out. I lost everything. I was just able to save my own life. Most people are staying, because their poor possessions are here. Most people lost everything. Refrigerator, gas range, washing-machine. And so many lives. "


The biggest problem for Venezuela’s biggest is its destroyed infrastructure. There isn't any electricity or water, at least the kind they can drink. Bulldozers try to create routes for the aid to travel along but there are vast obstacles at every turn. For most there's little choice but to cross the rivers on foot. Aid Volunteers from the capital Caracas are using motorbikes to overcome the terrain and locate survivors.

A combination of Venezuelan government resistance, millenium celebrations and a general surplus of foreign crises has resulted in little aid being sent to the worst climactic crisis in the century. The army however ill equipped, appear content to continue without assistance despite the scale of the disaster.


Quote mayor Lenin Marcano, mayor of the Vargas-district:

This is one of the biggest disasters South America has ever known. There has never been such a disaster in Central- and South America as this one in the Vargas-region. The rain, the flood has turned our state into an emergency zone. It is a catastrophe the size of which we're only just realising. Only now are we thinking about everything that has happened - the people who died. Thousands are dead or missing. We have to rebuild a state which has been totaly destroyed.


Quote mayor Lenin Marcano, mayor of the Vargas-district:

The expanded river dragged along thousands of people and 80% of residential towns. Eight or nine cities with 50,000-60,000 inhabitants were completely destroyed. The only thing that is left are stones, sand and rubble and the framework of larger buildings. The little houses were swept away."


A much needed tanker of clean drinking water arrives in the town of Macuto.

Quote woman:

"It was terrible. It was a sea of mud and houses and people dragging along. This was beneath us in La Veguita. We live a little bit higher up. Now we don't have water or electricity."


Coming in the last days of the last century of the millennium this greatest of disasters raises questions about global warming. And in Venezuela there are political recriminations. Why did the government ignore clear signs a catastrophe was about to happen? But as climactic turmoil increases world-wide disasters like this won't have been experienced before. It's unlikely anyone will be ready for them.

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