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Death toll rises to 16 in western Venezuela floods

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By Reuters

SANCRISTOBAL, Venezuela – At least 16 people have died in the western Venezuelan state of Merida following intense rains that have triggered mudslides and caused rivers to overflow.

State governor Ramon Guevara told Reuters on Wednesday that more than 1,200 houses had been destroyed and 17 people remained missing as well, as rescue workers continue to scour the wreckage.

“Let’s try not to make this political or ideological,” Guevara, a member of the Democratic Action opposition party, said. “Lets all look for solutions to the problem.”

Images shared on social media showed cars being swept down streets, buildings and businesses filled with mud, and mudslides that left boulders strewn across roads.

Several towns in the affected area including Tovar, Bailadores, Zea and Santa Cruz de Mora are without electricity or phone service as floodwaters damaged transformers, Guevara said.

He added that neither the state nor municipal governments have the resources to help the affected areas, but said that he had charged infrastructure specialists with working with Caracas to repair buildings and roads.

In a live broadcast Tuesday evening President Nicolas Maduro said Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami had guaranteed fuel for the rescue efforts.

“We remain in a state of emergency on the instructions of our commander-in-chief Nicolas Maduro Moros,” Remigio Ceballos, minister of the interior, said on state television on Wednesday.

He added that at least 54,543 people in 87 municipalities of the country had been affected in addition to damaged roads and bridges. He said the states that remain in a state of emergency were Merida, Tachira, Zulia, Apure, Amazonas, Bolivar, Delta Amacuro, Monagas and Aragua.

So far 80 firefighters and 60 Civil Protection officials from Merida have been deployed for emergency operations in addition to members of the armed forces stationed in the area.

Guevara instructed officials to organize a humanitarian aid collection post in Merida’s city center where they are receiving contributions of water, non-perishable food, clothing and blankets. Guevara also deployed health workers to the hardest hit areas.

The area in question is an agricultural zone that provides food to other parts of the country.