Venezuelan president invites flood victims to shack up with him

Thursday 02nd Dec 2010 by theWeather

Most of the thousands of people made homeless by the ongoing flooding in Venezuela have been forced to find temporary accommodation in government-run shelters, but for 26 families, this natural disaster has resulted in a rather more comfortable relocation.

Hugo Chavez, the country's populist president and a notorious self-publicist, has announced that he his putting up a lucky group of flood victims in the 19th century neoclassical Miraflores Palace – the official presidential residence. His house guests will remain, he says, until they can be permanently re-housed.

Chavez's grand gesture is a drop in the ocean - around 5,000 people are said to have been made homeless by the flood waters, and more than 33,000 have been temporarily displaced. A state of emergency has been declared in the country's capital, Caracas, and in three other northern states, with the authorities desperate to avoid a repeat of events in 1999, when floods led to landslides near Caracas which killed thousands. Venezuela, despite its oil wealth, suffers from severe housing shortages, with many Venezuelans forced to live in hillside shacks that are horribly vulnerable to flooding.

The Venezuelan rainy season begins in May and usually peters out before the end of November, but this year the rains have been extremely heavy and unusually prolonged, partly as a result of the La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific, which has been particularly strong this year and has led to much of the region being battered. In neighbouring Colombia, more than 160 people are known to have died because of heavy flooding in recent weeks.