Chavez orders hotel comforts for Venezuela homeless

Most schools have been ordered shut until January.

Chavez orders hotel comforts for Venezuela homeless

Mother-of-two Mariella Bandres had never entered a hotel until last weekend.

"I never imagined going inside one. They're treating us really well," said Bandres, who was made homeless by Venezuela's floods but is now in temporary lodgings with her small children in a five-star hotel on the Caribbean coast.

The worst rains in a decade have brought chaos to the South American nation, killing more than 30 people and leaving 100,000 homeless.

Storms have triggered mudslides that have cut roads and toppled homes in hillside shanty-towns, while rivers have burst their banks and coastal areas are widely flooded.

Most schools have been ordered shut until January.

Wading through water, driving a 4x4 vehicle, and addressing anxious crowds by megaphone, President Hugo Chavez has taken charge of the rescue operation, by ordering the army to take over some hotels.

About 1,200 people are housed in 43 hotels and inns in the worst affected areas along the coast.

Bandres' family is one of 60 at the 82-room Aguamarina hotel in the coastal resort of Higuerote, a two-hour drive from Caracas. "I'm so happy," said one girl waiting for lunch.

"I lost all my toys in my house, but here I can swim in the pool and play on the basketball court."

Criticized for the government's late response to 1999 rains that killed up to 7,000 people, Chavez is determined not to repeat the mistake and has mobilized the armed forces and a full government apparatus to respond to the latest crisis.

As well as making hotels open their doors to the homeless, Chavez has ordered army barracks, ministries and even a Caracas shopping mall to give up space.

In Higuerote, boats normally full of tourists are now helping move people and belongings from flood zones.

Chavez has sought to set a personal example by letting 25 families move into his Miraflores presidential palace.

After many nationalizations in the last decade, owners are nervous the hotels -- being taken over during high season -- may never be returned despite Chavez's assurances that bills will be paid and refugees will eventually be moved into proper housing.

"We're not opposed to some hotels being used, but the rules need to be clear," National Hotel Federation vice-president Jose Alberto Nunez told Reuters, saying owners were prepared for a month-long use of their buildings.

The sustained pounding Venezuela has taken from the rains, with heavy downfalls starting back in October, is likely to have an economic impact, analysts said.

Damage to crops and transport problems could worsen inflationary pressures, with prices already up 27 percent in the last 12 months.

An anticipated fourth quarter GDP recovery could be hindered, but a probable speedup in house-building might offset that in the mid-term.

For victims macroeconomics are irrelevant.

"It's been raining for 52 days nonstop, not even with the Vargas tragedy (in 1999) did it rain so much," said Jeronimo Sanchez in the coastal village of Guayabal, which has been cut off for a month since the road to Higuerote was destroyed.

The air force is supplying 90 families in Guayaba by helicopter every two days, delivering food on a soccer pitch.

"God, stop the rain," reads a message traced in the mud.



Reuters

Last Mod: 09 Aralık 2010, 16:20
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