Death toll rises to at least 20 in western Venezuela floods

·2-min read

SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) -At least 20 people have died in the western Venezuelan state of Merida following intense rains that caused mudslides and rivers to overflow.

On state TV on Wednesday a ruling Socialist Party official in Merida announced the death doll had risen and said authorities were working to restore telephone service in some areas.

State governor Ramon Guevara said earlier that more than 1,200 houses had been destroyed and 17 people remained missing as rescue workers search the wreckage.

"Let's try not to make this political or ideological," Guevara, a member of the Democratic Action opposition party, said. "Lets all look for solutions to the problem."

Images shared on social media showed cars being swept down streets, buildings and businesses filled with mud, and mudslides that left boulders strewn across roads.

Several towns in the affected area including Tovar, Bailadores, Zea and Santa Cruz de Mora are without electricity as floodwaters damaged transformers, Guevara said.

Neither the state nor municipal governments have the resources to help the affected areas, he said, but he had charged infrastructure specialists to work with Caracas on repairing buildings and roads.

President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday said Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami had guaranteed fuel for the rescue efforts.

Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos told state TV on Wednesday that at least 54,543 people in 87 municipalities of had been affected in addition to damaged roads and bridges. He said the states that remain in a state of emergency were Merida, Tachira, Zulia, Apure, Amazonas, Bolivar, Delta Amacuro, Monagas and Aragua.

So far 80 firefighters and 60 Civil Protection officials from Merida have been deployed for emergency operations in addition to members of the armed forces stationed in the area.

Guevara instructed officials to organize a humanitarian aid collection post in Merida's city center where they are receiving contributions of water, non-perishable food, clothing and blankets. Guevara also deployed health workers to the hardest hit places.

(Reporting by Anggy Polanco; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Sandra Maler and Grant McCool)

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