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Rains leave rising death toll in Colombia, Venezuela

Residents stand next to a damaged construction on an isolated piece of land, due the overflowing of the Tachira River, in the municipality of Villa del Rosario, located in the eastern part of North Santander department, Colombia, in the border with Venezuela, on December 3, 2010. The heavy rains affecting Colombia, that have killed 70 people in November, keep eleven roads in 14 departments blocked, and 110,000 hectares of land flooded, according to authorities. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Bogota (AFP) Dec 4, 2010
The toll from weeks of heavy rains across Colombia has risen to 174 people dead and over 1.5 million homeless, the Colombian Red Cross said Saturday.

And in neighboring Venezuela to the east, driving rains have triggered flooding and cave-ins that have killed 34 people over the past week and left an estimated 73,000 people homeless nationwide, officials said.

In Colombia, 225 people have been injured and 19 were missing, Colombian Red Cross deputy director of operations Cesar Uruena told reporters. A total of 1,821 homes have been damaged or destroyed.

"We've never had this many people affected by the rainy season," he added, noting that the punishing rains were hitting 95 percent of the country.

Some regions, including southwestern Valle del Cauca department, saw more than 12 hours of non-stop rain.

More than a dozen mudslides blocked roads from Valle's capital Cali to the Pacific port town of Buenaventura, stranding hundreds of trucks and passenger vehicles.

In Roldanillo, another town in Valle, 200 families were evacuated after the Cauca River overflowed and destroyed thousands of hectares (acres) of crops.

A major canal ruptured in the northern department of Atlantico, flooding six villages and leaving at least 20,000 people homeless, officials said.

Faced with the dire situation, President Juan Manuel Santos hastened his return home from the Ibero-American summit in Mar del Plata in Argentina.

Officials said Santos will travel directly to the port city of Baranquilla in Atlantico to meet with local authorities and help boost emergency measures for flood victims.

In the central-western Andean department of Tolima, authorities opened the gates of the Prado dam and declared a red alert for some 10 villages affected by the flooding.

Prado Mayor Jose Jael Florez urged the Tolima governor and relief agencies to ferry aid to those affected by the disaster, especially food, mattresses and canoes or boats.

In Venezuela states of emergency have been declared in four states -- Falcon, the Capital District, Vargas and Miranda. Thousands of people sought help at shelters nationwide.

The storms were being blamed on atmospheric disturbances from La Nina, a phenomenon in which cooler-than-normal water circulates in the Pacific Ocean around the equator.

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