Venezuela: the flood crisis continues in "La Guajira"
By Moisés Arevalo, Leidy Báez, Rafael Márquez and Carolina Bracho, translation by Aleksander Boyd
(06.12.03) - With the swelling of the rivers north of Zulia state and incessant rains that have put in the street more than 6,000 people the necessity of humanitarian help has increased. Humanitarian aid is expected to arrive to Firemen headquarters in "Libertador", additionally Maracaibo's city hall necessitates also supplies of water, clothes, food and medicine.
Alexis Guerra, from the department against floods and risks assessment of the Environment's Ministry stressed that the meteorological phenomenon tends to move away. Heavy rain returned yesterday to "Páez district"
According to Mr Guerra the weather originated in the Colombian side, and the massive rainfall in river sources resulted in the flooding of the extensive savannah of "La Guajira" The fears of people increase with the same force that the waters are covering all visible space, although it is believed that the worse is over.
The number of refuges rose yesterday from eight to 22 and the medical attention considerably increased due to the contingency plan coordinated by the Direction of Social Development and Regional System of Health on the one hand; and Maracaibo's Health Department and Cuban doctors on the other.
The emergency continues and the authorities are lacking potable water, futons, food and a coherent plan of evacuation in case the situation gets worse.
Escabiosis, diarrheas, fever and vomit have been reported among children whereas adults are suffering from various types fungal infections and inflammations seize of whichever soaked foot obtain.
"Six thousands people have been affected, half of the territory of the municipality is presently under water" reported the mayor of PA, Eduardo González for whom the threat of a bigger crisis remains latent.
"This has been critical, many goods, animals and harvests are lost and we have 6,000 people affected, we have not had anything like it for the last 32 years" stated the mayor while inspecting the level of the "Limon" river.
"El Trapiche, El Cero, El Perdido, El Tamaral, La Yegua, Perra Amarrá, La Jabillita, Camama, Varilla Blanca, Alpanate, Chinkaín Puerto Aléramo, Campamento, Miralejos, Las Veritas, La Punta, Jurubá, El Molinete, Las Huertas and El Arroyo" are the most affected areas.
The Governor of Zulia has sent part of his cabinet along with aid, foods and medicines to face the situation and the Armed Forces have helped in the evacuation of the people towards the refuges.
Mr González said that the situation tends to become serious and for that reason he called the attention of the national authorities to be alert on the necessities for an emergency of great proportions could appear.
He told reporters "we know the behavior of the river (Limon), we know that it is a potentially dangerous one, hence we must remain vigilant for the risk of over flooding remains high. We need to coordinate the efforts and implement a coherent contingency plan to guarantee the life and well being of the people.
Luis Felipe de Los Rios, state secretary of Health, assured that he ordered the transfer of doctors and medicines to the emergency refuges. He considered that if raining continues the situation can get a lot worse.
The director of "Defensa Civil" Hermán Bracho, ratified that the cause of the floods is the weather front that has originated in the Colombian side.
"We have sufficient medical supplies until at least next Sunday", informed Hermilo Polanco, director of the Binational Hospital of Paraguaipoa, main center of health of the municipality.
Although Angel Silva, president of the association of neighbors of "Triyajaín" denounced that in their community 80 families have not yet received any type of aid.
He indicated that the water covers half the height of the houses but people have remained in them to safeguard equipments and their flocks. "We move towards the highest parts and we stay put but we need attention and medicines" he stressed.
On the contrary Liney Pirela, resident of the sector "Varilla Blanca" said that since past Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. the evacuation of neighbors towards the school (refuge) began, the Army, Corpozulia, Pdvsa and the staff of the "Mision Ribas" have been coordinating the plan.
Ms Pirela said "food and medicines helped us but we do not have sufficient futons for everyone to sleep".
In the farm of Antonio Urdaneta, located in "Hato Nuevo" area the water level remains above one meter of height. Mr Urdaneta and other 130 families with children of the town have not been able to leave owing to the lack of boats required for the transfer to safe areas.
"I have my 5 children hanging in hammocks in the high parts of the house without being able to leave. Today a doctor with medicines arrived but we do not have anything to eat and the small goats and pigs were swapped away by the current" stated Mr Urdaneta of 34 years when describing the ongoing drama.
Antonio also lost a hectare of maize that he cultivated and yesterday when looking around for food for his family he felt fever and pain in the waist.
"I have lived here all my life, there was a flood in 1999 but not so great. Now it seems that it is going to continue raining and to make things worse we are going to lose everything but we cannot leave, the only thing that we have in life it's here" he added.
It is urgent to reinforce medical attention
A total of 45 doctors from other parts of Zulia state were commissioned yesterday by the Mayor of Páez to bring the number of doctors working on the contingency plan to 51. Officials said that 30 Cuban doctors were collaborating in the assistance to those affected.
In spite of the commendable effort of those who have defied the adverse conditions to protect the health conditions of the affected citizens the number was insufficient, judging by the testimony of those receiving medical care.
Another commentary shared by the victims was the lack of medicines on the part of the Cuban doctors, who were the first ones in arriving at the refuges.
The situation was corrected partly yesterday, when the medicine provision sent by the regional authorities served to cover recipes emitted by the Cubans. In diverse sectors anti-parasite vaccines were applied.
The Páez municipality -which is the most affected- has an extension of 2,369 square kilometers and population of 75,917 inhabitants. The waters yesterday began to take terrain in Mara, municipality with 148,941 inhabitants and 3,312 kilometers. Altogether there are 3,505 people lodged in 22 refuges.
The secretary of Culture of the regional Government, Gisela Nones, coordinator of the food distribution plan, informed yesterday that 380 bags containing two kilos of rice, two kilos maize flour, a kilo of rice powder (used for baby nutrition and beverages), two cans of sardines and a liter of oil were distributed. The distribution scheme will continue today.
Following directions of the Social Development and Maracaibo Health's authority 58 doctors (of which 30 are of Cuban origin) and 16 paramedics were transferred to the site of the emergency, according to the information given by Paola Mujica, coordinator of the commission.
How to help?
The Armed Forces had a storing centre for equipment and food for those in need. People are encouraged to send donations and aid to "Cuartel Libertador". Other places geared at receiving aid have been set by Maracaibo's city hall, the Firemen headquarters and the 3rd Regional army base.
What is needed?
The authorities call upon those interested in collaborating with the inhabitants of the municipalities Páez and Mara to contribute with tinned meals, grain, foods for new born and children, clothes and shoes in good state. Also the greater possible amount of mineral water is necessary.
The floods in the Páez municipality began Saturday 15 of November in the following areas "Los Mochos, Jurubá, Awatui, Bella Vista, Moina, La Punta, La Candelaria, Miralejos, Sumascaín, Mariché 2 and San Jacinto and towns in the vicinity of Paraguaipoa".
In that opportunity the waters affected 300 families and six refuges were set up. On November 21 the mayor Eduardo González declared the municipality in emergency.
In the communities bordering Carrasquero the situation started aggravating in the early hours of the afternoon of last Tuesday.
The 22 refuges are located in the schools of "Amonó, Terminal de Los Filúos, Liceo Orángel Abreu, Puerto Aléramo, Bella Vista, La Punta, Los Aceitunitos, Caracolito, Jurubá, Los Mochos, Los Robles, San Francisco de Asís (Sinamaica), El Arroyo, Las Huertas, Varrilla Blanca, Camama, El Molinete and Escuela Monseñor Álvarez; Iglesia El Tamaral, Carpa Las Veritas, Yauruna and Alpanate".
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