(Reuters) - At least 25 people died and 52 were missing after five small rivers in central Venezuela flooded due to heavy rains, Citizen Security Vice President Remigio Ceballos said Sunday evening in a televised address.
The downpour on Saturday night swept large tree trunks and debris from surrounding mountains into the community of Tejerias, 40 miles (67 kilometers) southwest of Caracas, damaging businesses and farmland, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said earlier in the day.
Rodriguez said that a month's worth of rain had fallen in just eight hours and pumps used to power the community's drinking water system were carried away in the flood waters.
Rodriguez said the priority was to locate people still trapped under mud and rocks throughout the town, while military and rescue personnel also searched the riverbanks for survivors.
"We have lost boys, girls," the vice president said from a flooded street in Tejerias. "What has happened in the town of Tejerias is a tragedy."
President Nicolas Maduro said in a tweet that he had designated the area a disaster zone and had declared three days of mourning.
The streets of Tejerias, a town of about 73,000 inhabitants, were filled with mud, boulders and tangled tree branches and lined by boarded-up houses, according to Reuters witnesses.
Armando Escalona, a 43-year-old taxi driver, said he was attending an evangelical church service with his family when the flood waters caught them by surprise. He said that he remembers hugging his family for a short while until an unknown object hit his head and he lost consciousness. When he woke, he couldn't find his family.
"I lost my wife and my 5-year-old son. I can't even talk. We were at the service, and everything happened so fast," Escalona said.
Gustavo Arevalo, a 58-year-old vendor who also volunteers for a civil defense corps, said that the waters began to rise quickly on Saturday around 6 p.m. ET (1000 GMT), felling the town's telephone antenna fell.
"As if dam water had been released," said Arevalo, standing in the town's center, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods.
The downpour also caused landslides in three other central states on Sunday morning, Rodriguez said, but claimed no victims.
The deaths bring the total killed in recent weeks to at least 40 due to heavy rains caused by the La Nina weather pattern. Venezuela has faced flooding and landslides.
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