Important Preparedness Lessons We Can Learn From the 1999 Vargas Tragedy: Part 2

By J. G. Martinez D.

This is the continuation of the first article, describing the remaining lessons to learn from this disaster. In part one, we covered the first four lessons. In this article, we will discuss the fifth lesson. You can read part one here: Four Important Preparedness Lessons We Can Learn From the 1999 Vargas Tragedy: Part 1

The fifth lesson we can learn from the worst natural disaster in Venezuelan history

If you think you would be better off evacuating when the weather goes bad…do it early. I knew some guys with some family that went through a similar situation in El Limon, Maracay, in the Aragua State back in the 80s but in a scale much less severe, and they mentioned that one day and a half of rain made everyone nervous. So they packed up and left, going to visit some relatives in Caracas. This probably saved their lives. A couple of hours later, landslides made impossible road access for days. 

Many people refused to leave their places, hoping the water would cease to come down the mountains. The mud wave that came later would be the last thing they saw. 

There are some other horrendous stories but won’t share them here. Instead, I will end with a happy ending. 

I met this girl at the University. Maybe she doesn’t remember me but I hope someday can read this and smile. She lived in Los Corales, one of the subdivisions that received most of the impact of the landslides. They evacuated in the middle of the night, under the rain, in the middle of the dark. (By learning this, I decided to acquire the most rugged, industrial/military/expeditionary grade of headlamps I could get…and my 7-year-old destroyed them in 20 minutes. I already offered him to that manufacturer’s quality control department as part of the destructive testing equipment).

They, somehow, lost the track of each other. They separated in the middle of the mess, while dozens of other neighbors were looking to save their own lives too. The mother and older daughter (my acquaintance) could take the younger kids to safety. They jumped into a boat, then were taken to a warship, and later to a nearby city with some relatives willing to receive them for a while.  

But their dad got lost. Without any notice about his final destiny, they cried for him, and went through their mourning, burying him in their hearts, wishing him farewell in his journey to meet our Creator. 

Some years later, I went back to college to start an MSc, and found some mutual friends. She was not living in the city any longer: she got her MSc and went to another city. That was circa 2005, and this mutual friend told me she had found her father…in a mental institution in another city. The poor old man was in a deep shock. Physically hard to recognize him. So deep that was unable to say his own name, he could not even speak but a few words. Sadness had consumed him and he passed his days sitting quietly, just watching some point in the space in front of him. 15 years later, people. She went with her family to look for him, and he couldn’t recognize them. He told his family was dead, and he did not know if he was dead too, or alive. Finally, they took him, convincing him that he would be better with them and since they’ve been living all together, and their Dad seems to have been recovering. Haven´t heard about them in a while, but I hope they´re doing just fine. She was a fine lady and a very capable engineer and did not deserve that in her life. 

You can’t rely on government officials to save you after a natural disaster.

The official response was slow and insufficient, as in many other natural disasters all over the planet, and it was DAYS after the main events occurred even though the official warnings have been given. There were already predators out of their caves harming people. Without any means to defend themselves, the population had no other remedy than eat whatever they could find, drink whatever water they could find, or try to walk to an evacuation point…without being noticed by the predators, who were already grouped, organized, well-armed and packed, blocking the routes to the evacuation points. Every access point to the town was blocked by the landslides, to make things even worst. 

Missing kids, hundreds of them, elders, and women. All of them casualties of the disaster itself, or the mess occurring naturally in the middle of the evacuation efforts. One of the most trustable reports mentioned the separation of the families as the main cause of so many missing kid and women. My personal view is this: under some circumstances, mankind reduces itself to primitive conditions. Grown-up males have to defend and take care of their clan. And if you have to look for a mace to do so, just go ahead and get it. To add even more pain, people were forced to get rid of their PETS. I´d rather prefer walking tenths of kilometers with my cats in my backpack (check my Fact-Based Prepping logo if you don´t believe me) than leaving them behind. The census was poorly made, and people registered as alive and kicking happened to be disappeared since day 1. To this day, kids that were seen on the TV screens, alive, and asking for their families to go to look for them, are still missing. And I write this with watery eyes, but someone has to inform about this to the prepper community how things really are in a disaster that big. 

Some families were separated for years after the disaster.

The management of the evacuation and relocation information was so defective than lots of families could not get together even months (and some of them ever years – keep reading) after their separation. The general sentiment is… the State was not present. Familiar sentiment of these last decades, indeed.

The general consensus, even these days, is that a general lack of coordination between different forces was evident, and this, of course, had a strong negative effect on the rescue efforts. According to reports, the National Guard decided to convert the main airport of the country in a giant shelter, instead of taking advantage of the unaffected facilities with all the needed services to install an operations and logistics command center. Civilian decided to put the power in the hands of the military personnel because of the huge amount of predators roaming. This was a choice entirely emotional, and that surely could be handled within some other terms. There are enough testimonies of the arbitrary actuation of some officials in charge of the different areas. Even lots of donations like beds, refrigerators, fans, and similar material was shipped to Cuba under Hugo’s orders according to some claims done by people who actually were there. Just check the tweeter account belonging to the journalist Jesus Penalver. When something like this happens, is to be expected these consequences. But the inexistence of an adequate response that supposed specialists and people who charge a salary from the government to do just that…it´s disappointing to say the least. Plenty of support and donations was made by charity organizations, and volunteers came from everywhere to provide much-needed support. The wounded toll was extreme. Another girl I met very closely joined a group of volunteers from the University…and in the years to come she would rather remain silent when something remembered her those days. She told me, much later, that just by looking a few seconds the emergency room in the Maiquetia Airport she though the consequences were just like those of war.  

Here are some things to consider regarding surviving natural disasters.

As an interesting note, I could talk years ago with people who were there and lived that, and the first responders were professional rescue personnel, piggy-backing on the rear seat of cross-country light motorcycles with fully-equipped professional riders: these were the only vehicles and drivers capable to overcome the obstacles. They would leave the rescuers attending the wounded in a temporary rescue point and would go back with one refugee on the backseat up to a safe place. They would come back later with supplies, mostly water and some food, and another rescuer. So yes, a light motorcycle like this with lots of carrying saddles is on my list. A 250cc will be able to carry me and a passenger, plus 30 kilos of equipment for some distance. Anything heavier than that becomes hard to drive and uncomfortable in very rough terrain…and I was a great bike rider in such conditions when I was a kid, so I speak from the knowledge. 

I would love to read what you have to say, and even more important, what procedures should have been executed in order to avoid the following events:

  • Evacuation by foot, in the middle of the night, thigh-deep water filled with debris, with ALL your family with you.
  • Losing track of the members of the family group.
  • No ID documents, nor important papers like study titles, property, and similar.
  • Please tell me you already thought in your cat/dog/parrot/ pet before getting into this part…
  • Starve the next 3 days until you can arrive at a safe place, hopefully, your well-supplied BOL. 

You could read some technical data and see some pictures in this works used as references:

The Vargas Disaster and Measures

Poder y catastrofe. Venezuela bajo la Tragedia de 1999

Thank you.

Thanks for your reading, fellows, and your inestimable support to keep these articles flowing. 

About Jose

Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations: paypal.me/JoseM151

There are important preparedness lessons to learn from the Vargas Tragedy. In part one, we covered the first four lessons. In this article, we will discuss the fifth lesson.
J.G. Martinez D

About the Author

J.G. Martinez D

About Jose Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations: paypal.me/JoseM151

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