It was raining, hard. A creek flowing along a nearby mountain has swelled, spilling into the larger river that feeds below. A fast-moving landslide formed, sweeping away car-sized boulders and engulfing homes in northern Maracay.
“I was soaked in water and got stuck in mud,” Betancourt said. “But, meanwhile, the landslide was gushing down the road I would normally have brought home. My car would surely have been swept. “
It was Venezuela’s second catastrophic landslide in just over a week. Another devastated the nearby city of Las Tejerías on 8 October, killing 54 people. Monday’s landslide killed at least three people after hitting the areas of Palmarito, El Castaño and Corozal, a sector of the city along a mountainside in Henri Pittier National Park.
Rain is not unusual in Maracay, especially during Venezuela’s wettest season, from May to November. But the loud thunder, the bright flashes and the monstrous roar hinted at the deadly turn that the torrential downpour Monday afternoon would bring.
The wife from Betancourt, France, was inside the couple’s house when it rocked for about three minutes at around 1:30 pm. At first, she thought it might be an earthquake. She then she saw trees falling like dominoes and brown water gushing along the slope of the neighborhood. There was an outcry that sounded like “a giant monster was crawling under the earth,” she said.
Watching that muddy mass approaching his home, Francia worried about Arturo. The two were supposed to meet for lunch in a few minutes. She wondered if he would be wiped out. Fortunately, she said, “it just wasn’t the time to leave us.”
After crawling up to his knees in the mud, Arturo returned about three hours later, on a walk that would normally have taken about 30 minutes.
The Betancourt street was one of two that hadn’t been wiped out in their upper-middle-class neighborhood of some 250 families. Yet the signs of destruction were everywhere, they said: a young neighbor died after the river took her away, while another got stuck in his house. Whole houses had disappeared and the aqueduct that served the area had disappeared.
That night, families reeled from the “unimaginable loss,” France said. Their electricity, cellular and water services are also down and could take months to repair, all while the country is already facing an energy crisis.
“The fear of seeing the landslide move is terrible. The loss of life is terrible, “France said.” But the consequences are equally terrifying. I mean, this is a place where we have short power outages at least three times a week and we have to come together as neighbors to solve any problems. I’m trying to be an optimist, but I don’t see the situation getting better anytime soon. “
The aftermath of other natural disasters in Venezuela also doesn’t inspire much hope, the couple added. Communities in the nearby coastal state of Vargas are still rebuilding 23 years after mudslides killed at least 10,000 people in 1999, a moment in history dubbed the “Vargas Tragedy”. Arturo said he feared the crumbling infrastructure and the government’s history of refusing humanitarian aid could also prolong the crisis.
Landslides destroyed a Venezuelan city. Critics blame the government’s negligence.
The office of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Washington Post. On Monday evening, Maduro, along with Vice President Delcy Rodríguez and other officials, surveyed the area in the middle of “the most difficult year in terms of rain for the whole country,” the president told reporters, blaming climate change for torrential rains in Venezuela. year.
Maduro 1,000 members of the military said they would be mobilized to the area to assist with rescue operations and debris clearing. “We have to come in with everything and support [the city] because there are buried areas [in mud and debris]and we have to get in early, “he said.
Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as Venezuela’s president by the United States and a slew of other nations, said on Twitter that “the rain must not mean anguish for our people, as it is in Maracay and in tragedies such as Las Tejerías. Natural disasters are inevitable, but we can prepare and learn from them. “
In Maracay, the Betancourts decided to leave their home and head east to Caracas, where the mother of France lives. On Tuesday morning, each of them carried a small backpack with two changes of clothes and important documents as they walked along a road caked with mud, trees, boulders and pieces of concrete.
The elder who lives opposite them was going saved by the civil protection operators, who transported it on a dining room chair. One of them handed France a steel tube as a makeshift instrument for measuring the depth of the mud.
“The scene was surreal, like something out of an apocalyptic movie or Indiana Jones,” he said, sitting next to Arturo in a house in the Venezuelan capital, where they hope to stay for at least a month.
However, said Arturo, “we are some of the lucky ones”.
“We are safe and our home has been spared. But some people have lost everything. I fear for the many, many others who are going through a tremendously difficult situation that is only just beginning ”.
“They have to pick up the pieces of their lives that have been swept away by the water and mud,” he added.