Rescue workers using drones and trained dogs have searched for survivors following a massive landslide in central Venezuela, as the death toll rose to 34 and residents described harrowing tales of escape from the water and mud.
Jose Medina recalled how the water streaming into his home in the town of Las Tejerias on Saturday night had reached waist level. He and his family were trapped, he realised.
So the 63-year-old turned his refrigerator sideways, opened its door and used it as a boat for his granddaughter. Meanwhile he held on to the fridge with his wife, and pinned it to a table so that the strong currents of water would not push them downstream.
Medina described their survival as a miracle.
“I’m happy that we’re alive but I’m also sad,” said the retired construction worker who lost his home and all of his belongings.
His plight began when torrential rains caused by Hurricane Julia unleashed mudslides and floods that destroyed several mountainside neighbourhoods in Las Tejerias.
On Monday, Venezuelan officials said at least 34 people died in the flooding and 60 are missing following the worst natural disaster to hit the cash-strapped South American country in recent years.
In Las Tejerias, a city of 50,000 people located along Venezuela’s main industrial corridor, crews were using heavy machinery to clear debris from neighbourhoods whose streets were still blocked with mud.
Meanwhile, rescue workers used drones and dogs to find people buried under the debris.
“We are still hoping to find people that can be saved” said Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez as she toured one of the neighbourhoods affected by the mudslides.
Authorities said 317 homes in Las Tejerias were wiped out by the mudslide and another 750 homes were damaged.
Residents said they had only minutes to leave their homes late on Saturday as the avalanche of mud, rocks and tree logs swept over several hillside neighbourhoods in the city.
Some people were praying at an evangelical church when the mudslide occurred, while others were at a children’s party, residents said. Several children are among the missing.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday declared three days of mourning and sent rescue workers to Las Tejerias, which lies along a highway that connects Caracas to the industrial city of Valencia.
Maduro said 11 states in the country sustained damage from floods at the weekend.