A landslide triggered by days of torrential rains has killed at least 22 people and left dozens of people missing in central Venezuela, authorities said on Sunday.
Residents of Las Tejerías in Santos Michelena, an agro-industrial town in Aragua state 87km (54 miles) southwest of the capital, Caracas, had just seconds to reach safety late on Saturday as debris swept down a mountainside onto them.
“There was a large landslide in the central area of Las Tejerías” where five streams overflowed, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez told state-owned Venezolana de Televisión from the scene of the disaster. “We have already found 22 dead people; there are more than 52 missing.”
“There are still people walled in,” Rodríguez said. “We are trying to rescue them, to rescue them alive.”
Higher on the mountainside, most of the houses were swept away, including those of a group of evangelicals who were praying when the landslide hit, said homemaker Carmen Teresa Chirinos, a resident of Las Tejerías. Families in tears hugged in front of destroyed homes and businesses.
“There are a lot of people missing,” Chirinos said.
Rescuers were carrying out search operations with trained dogs and drones, Major General Carlos Pérez Ampueda, the vice minister for risk management and civil protection, tweeted.
Aragua Governor Karina Carpio said the flood waters “terribly affected” 21 sectors in Las Tejerías, the capital of the Santos Michelena municipality, which has some 54,000 inhabitants.
During the past week, torrential rains have caused flooding in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states.
President Nicolás Maduro said 20,000 officials, including rescuers and members of security forces, have been deployed to affected regions.