The Clinton administration said yesterday it will lead the international aid effort in flood-ravaged Venezuela, spending $3 million for supplies and dispatching 10 military helicopters and seven large cargo planes to the South American country.
The United States already has provided 30,000 tetanus vaccines and two planeloads of plastic sheeting and wool blankets, plus 1,500 body bags, said Brady Anderson, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). On Tuesday, a large plane full of medical supplies and several paramedics will leave Miami for Venezuela, his agency said.
"We are listening for further requests from the government of Venezuela," Anderson told reporters yesterday afternoon.
White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said the United States has "been on the forefront of the international relief effort. . . . This is quite a tragedy. Its proportions grow . . . with each passing day."
Over the weekend, the United States committed 10 military helicopters, four C-130 transport planes and a patrol boat to help Venezuela cope with the catastrophe, a State Department spokesman said. The U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance dispatched a five-person disaster-response team to Venezuela and budgeted $800,000 in assistance, including $200,000 for food and medical supplies.
Equipment to bring potable water to stricken areas also is included. Anderson said the $800,000 is the first installment on spending that will total about $3 million.
The U.S. military has dispatched a variety of technical experts to help the Venezuelan government repair damaged infrastructure, such as sewage and water systems. Gen. Charles Wilhelm, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, arrived in the capital of Caracas yesterday morning to coordinate the operation, and later flew over the disaster area. The White House said seven C-130s will be flying supplies to Venezuela by today.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas said in a statement that U.S. helicopters had flown 150 missions on Sunday and rescued 1,000 people.
Other nations also are rushing aid to Venezuela. Britain yesterday made an initial contribution of about $803,000, Reuters reported. Spain sent 400 camp beds, 2,000 sheets of plastic and water sterilization plants. The Chinese Embassy said Beijing would donate $50,000 to the Venezuelan Red Cross. Switzerland said its Red Cross and Caritas charity had pledged $314,000, in addition to the $392,500 the government already offered.
Mexico has flown in 43,275 tons of food, 1,270 mattresses, 1,740 blankets, 49 tents and 2,020 pairs of shoes, its embassy said.
Cuba, which has friendly relations with the Venezuelan government, sent eight tons of medical supplies and other equipment. In response to a question about Cuba's quick response, Anderson said, "I don't think anybody got the jump on the United States."
Anderson said those wishing to contribute money to help Venezuela's victims should call AID's hot line at 1-800-872-4373 during business hours.
Staff writer John Lancaster contributed to this report.