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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Venezuelans Remain Overwhelmed By Mudslides

Aired January 1, 2000 - 7:06 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: In other parts of the world, the new year began with far less fanfare. Venezuela is still overwhelmed by the natural disaster that struck in mid December.

CNN's Mark Potter reports from Caracus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mood in much of Venezuela is seen through the eyes of Red Cross workers, who day after day go through mud and wreckage trying to ease the suffering. The estimates are staggering, between 15 and 50,000 dead, 400,000 homeless, and a $20 billion price tag on recovery, which could take years.

Red Cross supervisor Miguel Biroyale (ph) has worked nonstop since the mudslides. He has seen too much misery.

MIGEUL BIROYALE, VENEZUELAN RED CROSS SUPERVISOR: The Venezuelan people are not celebrating anything at this time.

POTTER: A national tragedy that has taken a personal toll on Ana Roxo.

ANA ROXO, VENEZUELAN RED CROSS: I'm not someone to have a new year party. I didn't have a Christmas party at home. I don't know. I'm sad. That is about it. I'm very worried about these people.

POTTER: During a national address, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said the tragedy has shaken but perhaps strengthened the national soul. To be clear, most of this country's 23 million people were not directly harmed by the disaster.

And life goes on in Caracus and the major industrial centers which were mostly spared. But even here there are political and economic worries. The country is in deep recession. And the Chavez administration blames much of the country's ills on rampant corruption from past governments.

While President Chavez is extremely popular with the poor, 70 percent of the population, his moves to crackdown on corruption, strengthen the military and solidify his power have raised questions among others about the future. JOSE VINCENTE CARRASQUERO, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: It doesn't mean that you have good expectations of the next year, because again, confusion is what we have now.

POTTER: Confusion. Compounded by tragedy that has shaken the national soul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: That was Mark Potter reporting from Caracus, Venezuela.

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