When the Mountain Tried to Join the Sea
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN VENEZUELA
BETWEEN Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, and the sea stands a 7,000-foot [2,000 m] mountain named El Ávila. On the north side is a narrow, heavily populated strip of coastline. Venezuela’s major airport is there, and to get from the airport to Caracas, tourists must travel through a tunnel that is cut right through the mountain.
After torrential rains last December, saturated El Ávila could take no more. Its sides seemed to burst as millions of cubic feet of water cascaded from the mountain. It seemed, as one person put it, as if the mountain were trying to join the sea. Homes—from shacks to villas—were engulfed in an avalanche of water, mud, rocks, and trees. Beds, refrigerators, televisions, and even humans were swept along. An elderly man said that he thought it was the end of the world.
In time, the rain stopped, and the floodwaters began to subside. According to one estimate, some 50,000 people may have died, and 400,000 were rendered homeless. For good reasons, this has been termed “the worst natural disaster in Venezuela’s history.”
On December 15, Juan Carlos Lorenzo and his father were trapped between two swollen rivers. They abandoned their vehicle and joined 35 people inside a building. Soon, however, the water started pouring in and rose rapidly. All were able to make it to the roof. Meanwhile, boulders and tree trunks pounded the building. Before long, the walls on the first and second floors were demolished, so that only the columns and the roof were left. The flimsy structure shuddered as the battering continued.
A helicopter appeared, but it could not land on the fragile building. As it turned away, Juan Carlos and his father tearfully said good-bye to each other, convinced that this was the end. Then two helicopters arrived. One by one, all on the roof were lifted to safety as the pilots skillfully hovered above. As soon as the helicopters departed, the building collapsed into the raging waters. They had escaped just in time!
People were evacuated by the thousands—in small airplanes, by road, and by army troopships designed for beach landings. Long lines of people—some carrying children on their shoulders—were guided by ropes through the surf onto boats. While some were able to salvage a few personal items, many left with just the clothes they were wearing.
At the Venezuela branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, relief efforts began as soon as word of the disaster was received. However, roads were either cluttered with debris or simply washed away. After a few days, one lane of the main highway was opened for emergency use, and Witness vehicles carrying medical supplies and qualified personnel were allowed through. An official later said: “The government is well aware that Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first to arrive with help and to take people away from the area.”
The Witnesses organized searches to find those needing help. Transportation was arranged to take evacuees to Caracas, where many arrived with nothing. Collection points were set up in the city so that food, clothing, and medicine could be distributed to people in need. But most of them needed more than food and clothing. They desperately needed a place to live. Their Christian brothers gladly took them in.
Even long after the disaster, people had friends and relatives living with them. Joel and Elsa, Witnesses in Puerto Cabello, live in a small apartment. A month after the storm, they still had 16 people living there with them. Many had lost not only their homes but also their jobs. Their places of work simply no longer exist.
Sadly, formerly bustling resort and port towns became virtually unrecognizable. Some vehicles protruded from the mud, while others were plastered against walls, wrapped around posts, or jammed in doors or windows. A layer of hardened mud—up to nine feet [3 m] deep in some places—caused the level of streets to be so high that as a person walked on them, he was at eye level with an upper floor or even the rooftops of the buildings he passed!
Some in Venezuela commented that the disaster taught them a valuable lesson—not to put their trust in material things. (Luke 12:29-31) A number came to appreciate the counsel of Jesus Christ: “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”—Matthew 6:19-21.
[Map/Pictures on page 16, 17]
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[Picture on page 17]
Rubén Serrano, with the remains of his house
[Pictures on page 18]
1. Volunteers gathered relief supplies in Caracas
2, 3. The Maiquetía Congregation removed hardened mud that was seven feet deep from their Kingdom Hall
4. These Witnesses lost their homes and then volunteered to build new ones for themselves and others
5. One of the nearly completed homes in San Sebastián de los Reyes