Heavy rains in Venezuela cause at least 8 deaths

CARACAS, Venezuela

Thousands of families have left their homes to take refuge in government disaster shelters, Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said.

Five people died in western Zulia state, while three others died in Caracas and adjacent Miranda state, El Aissami said.

President Hugo Chavez's government has ordered the military and rescue teams to be on alert in several regions of the country that have seen heavy rains this week. El Aissami said at a news conference that Chavez has been closely monitoring the government's efforts to help flood victims.

Heavy rains at the end of 2010 also forced tens of thousands of Venezuelans into shelters. Some are still in shelters nearly a year later, while others were moved into new public housing.

El Aissami said about 29,000 families are being housed in hundreds of shelters due to this week's rains and more than 1,000 homes have been seriously damaged.

He said the government is providing about $350 in cash assistance to each family. The government ordered schools closed due to the deluges.

Parts of neighboring Colombia have also been coping with floods. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos toured flooded areas south of Bogota on Friday and promised assistance to those whose houses have been damaged.

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