Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Military airlifts aid to flood victims

AP , TOVAR, VENEZUELA

Troops in helicopters shuttled food, water and medical supplies to remote mountain towns where dozens of people were missing after devastating floods and landslides that have killed at least 86 people in Venezuela and Colombia.

Watching a helicopter touch down in a meadow on Monday, Hilbert Molina said he was hoping to find his older brother, Carlos, a bus driver who disappeared when the floods struck.

Molina said his brother had been on his regular route home when the Mocoties River overflowed and washed away parts of several small towns. He said he hiked for nearly three hours to the nearest town of Santa Cruz de Mora, over parts of the highway buried in mud, and found his brother's empty bus partly submerged and smashed against a tree.

"I talked to a woman who saw him get out," said Molina, a 26-year-old mechanic.

He said troops and rescue workers haven't been able to offer any information about his brother.

At least 53 Venezuelans have been killed in a week of floods and landslides that have destroyed the homes of some 21,200 people from the Caribbean coast to the southwestern mountains, Interior Minister Jesse Chacon said.

At least 33 people were reported killed in Colombia, where some 40,000 people were forced from their homes.

The death toll in Venezuela included at least 32 people in the state of Merida, two more in the western states of Tachira and Zulia, and 19 others last week in northern and central states, Army Colonel Humberto Arellano said.

Many of the deaths occurred among the steep mountain peaks of the Mocoties River. The bodies of several victims floated for kilometers downstream, firefighters said.

At least 50 people were listed as missing, officials said. They said the final toll could be much higher because floodwaters and mud have prevented workers from reaching some buses that were swept away.

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