November 21, 2008

Panic on the Streets of El Rosal

Quico says: A day of chaos in Caracas yesterday, as uninterrupted, torrential rain caused deadly mudslides and absolute traffic chaos all over the city. Mudslides wiped out at least 30 houses (a euphemism, really they mean shanties) in Baruta (Southeastern Caracas). In Libertador (Central Caracas), 170 houses were destroyed. Five people died in Caracas, including two children. Two more died in floods in Zulia.

As an urban system, Caracas just stops functioning when it rains this hard. Yesterday saw a kind of systemic city-wide traffic collapse. (Erm...more so than usual, is what I mean.) Caracas's open-sewer-cum-river, the Guaire, looked set to burst its banks...literally covering El Rosal with shit. The Prados del Este and Valle-Coche Highways simply stopped moving, with water and mud waist high in places and people reduced to sleeping in their cars. Spotting an opportunity, gangs of muggers made their way through the cola, holding up stranded motorists at will. Mad Max stuff.

Amid all this, at around 4:00 p.m., Chávez called a cadena broadcast, linking up all terrestrial TV and radio. "Good," you think, "the Big Man is taking this weather bull by the horns!"

Not a bit of was just a standard, ranting, ideology-heavy cadena, this time to welcome the Vietnamese president and sing the praises of Ho Chi Minh.

His one mention of the weather? A wistful complaint that all that rain would mess with the satellite link-up to the site of a planned Vietnovenezuelan low-energy light-bulb factory in Falcón State - which was to be the highlight of the cadena. The sheer chaos all around him? Bien gracias...lets just say it wasn't just those light-bulbs operating at suspiciously low wattage yesterday.

For once, Leopoldo Castillo's incensed rant at the end of the cadena made good sense to me:

Fat Man in a Palace Syndrome is never quite so stomach turning as when people really do need their government to help them as a matter of life or death. In the normal run of affairs, Chávez's galactic level of isolation is merely funny, in a sad sort of way. But when the flood waters are rising all around you, it's not funny. Not funny at all.

So there you have it...more and more rain, pouring down and taxing the country's emergency response services just hours before an important vote, and the government utterly focused on the election rather than on sorting out the growing chaos engulfing the city...remind you of anything?

Update: Apparently the Guaire did finally burst its banks in some places. Some reports now talk of 11 deaths from the floods. Traffic in Caracas is still not back to normal. And the forecast calls for more rain today and tomorrow.