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Survivors face uncertainty following flooding

BY PJ HELLER | BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela | January 1, 2000

BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (Jan. 1, 2000) -- Valentine Correa sits in a chair

outside a military barracks building, a small guitar in one hand, his eyes

staring off into space, lost in thoughts of home and of the and New Year's

holiday he had hoped to spend with his wife and family.

Instead, the holidays are being spent in a military barracks here, filled

with 150 people, including about 45 children, who lost their homes when heavy

rains unleashed flooding and mudslides in various parts of Venezuela.

All of the survivors living at the Fuerte Terepaima military base are from La

Guaira in Vargas state, one of the most heavily damaged areas of the

country. They have been here since Dec. 21, six days after the storm

devastated their area.

Correa and his wife were evacuated from La Guaira by boat, taken to Caracas

and then sent here.

He said people pass the days by playing soccer, baseball or dominoes.

Children sit in their rooms playing with the few toys they have or playing a

board game outside on the concrete walkway.

The long barracks building has been turned into a series of makeshift rooms,

each about 8-by-10 feet and each containing anywhere from two to four bunk

beds.

"All of our needs have been taken care of," Correa said, referring to food,

water, temporary shelter and medical attention.

Other than the military, he said he doesn't know who is providing the aid.

"All we know is it's getting here," he said.

When asked what they need most, several survivors replied in unison, "casa."

Angie De La Cruz, a 23-year-old La Guaira resident who is staying at the

shelter along with her husband and 3-year-old son, said the government was

promising the survivors here would be provided permanent housing.

She said the survivors expected to remain in the barracks for three or four

months.

"People have promised us that we'll get land near the entrance (to the

military base)," De La Cruz said. "The men are going to build the houses and

the women are going to be given workshops on different things."

She said the men would be paid by the government to build their homes.

"Everybody who is living here at this shelter will be living here," she said.

She said she did not know what would happen to others from her area who were

evacuated elsewhere.

Government officials have said they hope to relocate people who were living

in high-risk areas to other parts of the country. But some residents have said

they are reluctant to leave.

De La Cruz, who was attending school and working in La Guaira at the time of

the flood, said life in the barracks is difficult.

"Sad," she said, holding back tears.

"It's not going to be a very happy new year, but at least we have our lives,"

she said.

Posted Jan. 1, 2000


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