The death toll from Venezuela's worst natural disaster in decades stands at 50, though dozens are still missing, presumed dead

Las Tejerías (Venezuela) (AFP) - “We love you princess,” reads the inscription on the fresh grave of a three-year-old girl among dozens of people killed by a devastating landslide in a Venezuelan town last week.

Gravediggers have had their hands full at the cemetery of Las Tejerias, a town of some 50,000 people laid to waste by a torrent of mud, stones and trees that followed hours of heavy rains.

Venezuelan authorities have confirmed 50 deaths so far, of whom 16 have been buried. Dozens remain missing.

“This has been sad,” said one of the gravediggers, who asked not to be named.

“That belongs to a three-year-old girl who was wrenched from her mother’s arms,” by the landslide, he said pointing to a blue-tiled grave.

A few meters away, a fresh pile of soil with a bouquet of flowers marked the grave of an elderly couple.

Two more funerals were scheduled for later Friday.

The mop-up operation continues for residents and shopkeepers

Unusually heavy rains last Saturday caused a major river and several streams to overflow and gush through the town nestled in the mountains near Caracas.

The muddy torrent washed away cars, parts of homes, businesses and telephone wires, and felled massive trees after a month’s worth of rain fell in just eight hours.

Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos told the Telesur channel on Thursday the confirmed death toll stood at 50.

He offered no update on the number of missing, which by Tuesday was 56 people now also presumed dead.

President Nicolas Maduro said earlier in the week that the toll from Venezuela’s worst natural disaster in decades was likely to reach 100.

- UN aid expected -

Work continued Friday to clear town streets of a thick layer of mud and debris and restore electricity as residents battled to save what they could from their flooded homes.

Tankers were delivering drinking water, and some shops had reopened, though many areas of the town remain inaccessible.

Hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged

On Wednesday, military helicopters had dropped food parcels with small parachutes in some of the more isolated areas of the mountainous region.

The government has opened shelters and announced it will relocate families to social housing complexes elsewhere in the country.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez has said 317 houses were destroyed and hundreds more were damaged.

A UN commission also visited the town Friday to make supplies and technical help available to support the authorities.

“Just right away we have supplies that we are going to make available,” Abubacar Sultan, a UNICEF representative leading the delegation, told reporters.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Thursday it had donated “medicines and healing material for 5,000 people” and 10,000 tablets that are each able to purify 10 liters of water.

The rains had caused damage to several Venezuelan states.

Storms swept away stilt houses in Maracaibo

San Timoteo, a fishing village on Lake Maracaibo in the country’s west, was hit by an eight-hour storm that destroyed 20 modest stilt homes.

“The bridges were the first to came down and then the houses,” Eli Rodriguez, a resident of the community of about 7,000 people, told AFP.

Crisis-hit Venezuela is no stranger to seasonal storms, but this was the worst so far this year following historic rain levels that caused dozens of other deaths in recent months.