Venezuela: Up to 30,000 feared dead

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The Independent Online
VENEZUELAN AUTHORITIES say the death toll from mudslides and flash floods that swamped Venezuela's Caribbean coast last week could be as high as 30,000.

"There are unfortunately thousands of people buried in the mud, and the final number we will never know," said Angel Rangel, the Civil Defence national director. "The forecast is maybe 25,000 or 30,000 people."

President Hugo Chavez attempted to deflect the anger of a nation casting around for someone to blame for the disaster. He pointed his finger at the kleptocracy he replaced last year, which he said hadpocketed money meant for housing and roads. Because of them, he said, poor shanty dwellers had built cheaply on streambeds, steep hillsides and low ocean- front plots, and were left vulnerable to the rains.

However, some people said the President was so obsessed with a constitutional referendum that he failed to act to save people from disaster. One woman complained that as rains pelted down, Mr Chavez "kept exhorting people to come and vote".

Aid pledges began arriving yesterday, with Britain promising pounds 500,000.