TORRENTIAL rains in Venezuela have killed 17 people, closed airports, blocked roads and destroyed thousands of homes in the past few days, sparking regional declarations of disaster, officials said today.
President Hugo Chavez was being urged by several governors to declare a national state of emergency, with fears mounting that the death toll could rise because of the number of people listed as missing.
Official figures said 56,000 people had been affected by the tropical rains and 11,000 homes were destroyed.
Mr Chavez yesterday spoke of 15 deaths, but the governor of the northern state of Vargas, Jorge Luis Garcia Carneiro, today said another two people subsequently died, bringing the total to 17.
The international airport in Caracas was still operating, but at reduced capacity, and the highway leading to it was cut off in several spots by mudslides.
An electrical blackout caused by the storms also limited operations at the country’s biggest oil refinery and paralysed another smaller refinery.
Both facilities were in the state of Falcon, in the northwest, where Mr Chavez declared a 90-day emergency.
The national weather service Inameh said the heavy rains were likely to continue into tomorrow.
The rainy season in Central America, Mexico and the northern part of South America, which usually runs from May to November, was especially violent this year because of La Nina, a phenomenon in which cooler-than-normal water circulates in the equatorial part of the Pacific Ocean.
More than 130 people have died in Mexico and around 400 in Central America and 136 in Colombia due to the climatic onslaught.