CARACAS, Venezuela – Dozens of Venezuelans left homeless by torrential rains can remain at the presidential palace until the government finds them new homes, President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday as the death toll from flooding and mudslides reached 25.
Venezuela's leader also visited a hillside slum in western Caracas, where he called on people to leave their homes to avoid the potential risks posed by more heavy rains.
"They told me that you did not want to leave until Chavez came. Well, here I am," Chavez told residents of Antimano.
Authorities confirmed four more deaths in Caracas on Wednesday, bringing the toll from rain-triggered flooding and mudslides to at least 25. About 5,000 people have lost their homes, prompting Chavez to urge people in high-risk areas to move to government shelters until the rains subside.
Chavez told dozens of flood victims at the presidential palace that they could remain there until they had new homes.
Chavez, a former paratroop commander, also told displaced Venezuelans at one shelter that he would order buildings inside Tiuna Fort — the nation's military nerve center — to be vacated if necessary so the homeless could live their temporarily.
Defense Minister Carlos Mata Figueroa said more than 33,000 people had been moved to 259 shelters as a precaution.
The government has declared a "state of emergency" in the capital and three states: Miranda, Vargas and Falcon. Officials say heavy rains have continued past the usual end of the region's wet season.
Venezuela's state oil company said operations at the Amuay oil refinery in Falcon, which had been suspended due to a power failure Monday, had resumed. Some units at the adjacent Cardon refinery, which had also been halted, remain inoperative, it said.
The company said the problems have not affected oil exports, which are the lifeblood of Venezuela's economy.