La Guaira state (formerly Vargas) marked the 20th anniversary today of the Vargas tragedy, a series of floods that devastated the state and left as many as 30,000 people dead.
Starting on December 14, 1999, heavy rains began to pummel the state, totaling approximately 911 mm of rainfall over a three-day period. The state normally receives an average of 510 mm of rainfall over the course of an entire year.
The unprecedented rainfall caused mudslides throughout the state, eventually affecting 70% of residents, or approximately 240,000 people. Since the majority of the state’s population lives on a narrow strip of land between the Caribbean and a mountain range, the mudslides washed entire communities out to sea. As many as 30,000 people lost their lives.
Ramon Diaz is a resident of the state who survived the tragedy. He told El Universal about the moment that he saw a mudslide rushing down a mountain:
I never thought that I’d see a giant wave coming down a mountain. You think about tsunamis, [which is when] the ocean comes here, towards the mountains. But we saw that wave [mudslide] coming down, and it took everything with it. It even took us with it.
Teofila de Diaz told the newspaper:
[The mudslide] looked like that, like a volcano. Well, that’s what we called it, a volcano, because it brought down everything with it. It brought down rocks, sticks… everything, the whole jungle, [even] thick branches, everything that was up there [in the mountains], it brought it all down.
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