(Al Jazeera) A landslide fuelled by flooding and days of torrential rain has swept through a town in central Venezuela, leaving at least 22 people dead.
Residents of Las Tejerías in the municipality of Santos Michelena had just seconds to reach safety late on Saturday as mud, rocks and trees tore through the streets and their homes. The agro-industrial town is situated in Aragua state, 87km (54 miles) southwest of the capital Caracas.
The official death toll rose to 22 after the recovery of 20 bodies on Sunday, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez told state-owned Venezolana de Televisión.
“There was a large landslide in the central area of Las Tejerías” where five streams overflowed, she said 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.”
She said shelters would be set up for people who had lost their homes.
Higher on the mountainside, most of the houses were swept away, including those of a group of Evangelical Christians 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.
Hours earlier, Major General Carlos Pérez Ampueda, the vice minister for risk management and civil protection, had said via Twitter that several people were reported missing in the El Béisbol and La Agotada neighbourhoods in the north of the town. Dozens of homes were damaged by the landslide.
Rescuers were carrying out search operations with trained dogs and drones, Pérez Ampueda said. Crews of workers and heavy machinery removed debris to clear roads and restore supplies of electricity and water.
“So many families lost their houses and I, as a businessman, lost my pizzeria,” said Luis Fuentes, who opened his restaurant two years ago. “Look, I have nothing.”
Aragua Govermpr 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.