By Vatican News staff reporter
Following Sunday’s Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his “closeness” to the people of the Venezuelan state of Merida, which has been struck by torrential rains and ensuing landslides.
The tragedy has left at least 17 people dead as a result of the disaster, and more than 20 others are missing. In Merida and neighbouring states, more than 8 thousand homes have been destroyed. Huge areas of western Venezuela are still being pounded by heavy rain, which could last as long as another ten days.
Ramon Guevara, the governor of Merida — which is suffering the brunt of the disaster —says swollen rivers have overflowed and burst their banks. A prominent member of the opposition Democratic Party, Guevara is urging that politics be set aside at this time of dire need. Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, is helping with the Governor’s appeal to establish a coordination centre in the nation’s capital of Caracas for the collection of fresh drinking water, non-perishable food, medical supplies, blankets and clothing, to be swiftly sent to areas where it is needed. Venezuela’s armed forces have been deployed to help emergency workers cope with the enormous scale of the still-unfolding disaster. Local or regional funds are insufficient to help with disaster relief and subsequent rebuilding. Instead, central funds and coffers will have to supply aid.
Television footage and photos from cellular phones show a chocolate-coloured lunar landscape, with one-time streets now raging torrents strewn with huge boulders, and houses flattened and swept aside, while others are upended, teetering on their sides. Debris can be seen swirling around like wisps of straw and soggy matchwood, with cars being carried along in the torrents like toys.
For now, the number one priority is the search for the missing, and it’s certain that the death toll will rise.
As the rains continue to fall and floodwaters rise ever higher, Pope Francis is interceding for the stricken people of Venezuela’s-stricken people: "I am praying for the deceased, their families, and for all those who are suffering as a result of this calamity."