TOVAR, Venezuela – Troops in helicopters shuttled food, water and medical supplies to remote mountain towns where dozens of people were missing after devastating floods and landslides that have killed at least 86 people in Venezuela and Colombia.
Watching a helicopter touch down in a meadow Monday, Hilbert Molina said he was hoping to find his older brother, Carlos, a bus driver who disappeared when the floods struck.
Molina said his brother had been on his regular route home when the Mocoties River (search) overflowed and washed away parts of several small towns.
He said he hiked for nearly three hours to the nearest town of Santa Cruz de Mora (search), over parts of the highway buried in mud, and found his brother's empty bus partly submerged and smashed against a tree.
"I talked to a woman who saw him get out," said Molina, a 26-year-old mechanic. He said troops and rescue workers haven't been able to offer any information about his brother so far.
"They tell us we have to be patient," Molina said. "It could be that he was able to make it out. I hope so."
At least 53 Venezuelans have been killed in a week of floods and landslides that have destroyed the homes of some 21,200 people from the Caribbean coast to the southwestern mountains, Interior Minister Jesse Chacon (search) said.
At least 33 people were reported killed in neighboring Colombia, where some 40,000 were forced from their homes.
The death toll in Venezuela included at least 32 people in the southwestern state of Merida (search), two more in the western states of Tachira and Zulia, and 19 others last week in northern and central states, Army Col. Humberto Arellano said.
Many of the latest deaths occurred among the steep mountain peaks of the Mocoties River. The bodies of several victims floated for miles downstream, firefighters said.
At least 50 people were listed as missing, Chacon said. Officials have said the actual casualty figure could be much higher because floodwaters and mud have prevented emergency workers from reaching some buses that were swept away in Santa Cruz de Mora.
Angelica Rodriguez, a 24-year-old student, said her uncle was in the town's bus terminal late Friday when the floods hit and managed to save himself by clinging to a barbed wire fence and pulling himself to higher ground. He limped to his family's home with cuts on his feet, legs and hands.
"When he saw me, he cried," said Rodriguez, whose uncle told her people were gathered at the bus terminal and that many were swept away along with parked buses.
The floods also washed away crops from potatoes to coffee and destroyed a chicken farm, doing away with some of the few sources of work in the small Andean towns, said Guzman Varela, a 23-year-old resident of Tovar.
"There is going to be more poverty because here there isn't much work," he said.