This was definitely a very rough day. I got home late last night and between one thing or another did not manage to get into bed until 3 AM. At about 6:10 AM a friend who had promised to attempt to go get my mother and sister and her family by boat, called to ask me for a favor in locating a dinghy to get people off the beach onto the larger boat.
I did all that and with phone calls coming in and out, I did not go back to sleep. The first bad news of the day was that the rain was back and back en force, it was raining very hard. I went to work thinking I would be there a while, until I knew where the boat would dock on its way back. At about 9:15 AM, my sister called from her cellphone (Thanks God for cellphones, this would have been absolutely horrible without them) to tell me that because of the rough sea, it had been impossible for them to go in my friends boat. Basically, the waves were strong and in order to get into the dinghy, people had to jump into the rough waters, something which was not advisable for my 79 year old mother.
Fortunately, my sister said, my mother was like second in line to get into the next helicopter evacuating people. I jumped in the car and went to the rescue center at Caracas’ international airport near the coast, some 20-25 miles away. As I was driving down, my sister called again to say that my mother was not on the way, because helicopter flights had been cancelled as the weather had gotten much worse, with very strong rain and limited visibility.
To give you an idea of the situation they were in, they were at a complex which was all flooded except for one building where they had been evacuated to in the morning. Basically imagine what used to be gardens and buildings about half a mile in width, all looking like a huge wide river, with rapids and torrents as if a big river. TV has shown some scenes and you can see rivers that are actually the water flowing through what are the streets, but look like rivers.
To get on the helicopters, they had to be at the beach, where the helicopters were able to land. Thus, all the people were at the beach getting soaked, while flood waters kept rising all around them (There is one river that overflowed at on side) and with the fear that there may be mudslides like those in 2000.
So, people just stood there at the beach, under the rain waiting for flights to resume. Priority was given to women and kids and many were actually flown to frigates nearby. This was not recommended for my mother as the frigate was going to wait all day to be filled with people.
To make a long story short, the rest of the day was waiting for helicopters to fly, looking at the people, calling, waiting and just hoping. My sister was reporting that unfortunately the helicopters would land, people would run to it and my mother would be left behind each time, which made it very frustrating. By noon, the weather started clearing up and flights became more frequent. Then at 1 PM, all flights were stopped as the military and the private helicopters stopped to coordinate their actions. Basically flights were both Government and private, the latter paid by big corporations to collaborate with the effort. At that time they decided to clear out the areas that were in the biggest danger first.
I managed to talk to a pilot who swore that he would bring my mother in the next flight, which did not happen. This was about quarter to three by which time at the airport there was a beautiful sun and it was hot. At this point someone I know called to complain that older people were being left behind and in a few minutes I was told my mother was on her way. And she was, she boarded a small private helicopter with my niece and arrived safely at the airport. Ten or fifteen minutes later my sister and her son also showed up and the nightmare was over.
There are still people out there, mostly men. They did remove everyone from a neighboring strip because it was getting really dangerous there. The rest will be able to sleep in the only building that did not flood, where they have electricity and some food. Most cars will be lost.
Problems continue everywhere. The people evacuated were mostly at vacation places that had barely recovered from the 2000 floods and are apparently in worse shape than then after these rains. Those that live there permanently have water problems and electricity in some places. Apparently food is not a problem. However, we need to have the rains stop if things are not going t get worse. The weather forecast suggests it will keep raining for a few days. Hopefully, it will not rain as hard as it has in the last few days.
Meanwhile, the political arguments have begun (see today’s Tal Cual) about why this happened again. The National Assembly approved US$ 1 billion in 2001 for the reconstruction of Vargas state, where the worst damage has taken place. People used to argue that nothing was visible and the Government of that state kept saying that the money was spent in the infrastructure to insure there would not be flooding again and now this. Perhaps the silliest statement is that of the current President of Corpovargas in charge of the public works, who said that he had limited resources when referring to the US$ 1 billion. He certainly has no concept of what exactly US$ 1 billion is and how hard it is for anyone in this planet to raise that much.
Fortunately my family is back, there have been no deaths in the last twelve hours and hopefully it will stop raining. Crummy day, but it definitely had a happy, even if exhausting, ending.