22 dead, dozens missing as rain fueled landslide sweeps through Venezuela town

Residents embrace in Las Tejerias, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, after intense rain caused a river to overflow flooding the town. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

A landslide fueled by flooding and days of torrential rain swept through a town in central Venezuela, leaving at least 22 people dead as it dragged mud, rocks and trees through neighborhoods, authorities said Sunday. Dozens of people are missing.

Residents of Las Tejerias in Santos Michelena, an agro-industrial town in Aragua state 54 miles (87 kilometers) southwest of Caracas, had just seconds to reach safety late Saturday as debris swept down a mountainside onto them.

The official death toll rose to 22 after the recovery of 20 bodies on Sunday, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez told state-owned Venezolana de Television.

“There was a large landslide in the central area of Las Tejerias” 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,” Rodriguez said. “We are trying to rescue them, to rescue them alive.”

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She said shelters will be set up for people who lost their homes.

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 Tejerias. Families in tears hugged in front of destroyed homes and businesses.

“There are a lot of people missing,” Chirinos said.

Hours earlier, Major Gen. Carlos Perez Ampueda, the vice minister for risk management and civil protection, had said via Twitter that several people were reported missing in the El Beisbol and La Agotada neighborhoods 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, Perez Ampueda said. Crews of workers and heavy machinery removed debris to clear roads and restore electricity and water services.

“So many families lost their houses and I, as a businessman, lost my pizzeria,” said Luis Fuentes, who opened his pizza restaurant two years ago. “Look, I have nothing.”

Local residents watch the damage caused by flash floods caused by heavy rains in Las Tejerias, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

Aragua Gov. Karina Carpio said the flood waters “terribly affected” 21 sectors in Las Tejerias, capital of the Santos Michelena municipality, which has some 54,000 inhabitants.

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During the past week, torrential rains have caused flooding in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states.

President Nicolas Maduro said 20.000 officials, including rescuers and members of security forces, have been deployed to affected regions.


Associated Press journalists Jorge Rueda contributed to this report from Caracas and Matias Delacroix from Las Tejerias.

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