U.S. aids Bolivia flood victims, but Chavez helps more

, March 5, 2007

TRINIDAD, Bolivia: A U.S. cargo plane on Monday delivered more than US$1.1 million (€834,000) worth of medicine and supplies to Bolivia's flood-ravaged eastern lowlands, yet American aid was dwarfed by the US$15 million (€11.4 million) pledge from ideological rival Venezuela.

A rainy season supercharged by the El Nino climate phenomenon has swamped the Bolivian states of Beni and Santa Cruz, killing 41 people, driving thousands from their homes and triggering an outbreak of dengue, with some 1,950 confirmed or suspected cases so far.

The U.S. donation included vaccinations, pumps, towels and containers for fresh water, as well as cash to help repair the region's washed-out highways and a donation to the local Red Cross. Monday's delivery brings total U.S. flood aid to US$1.5 million (€1.15 million).

International aid continues to arrive in Trinidad, whose outlying neighborhoods have been underwater for weeks.

Venezuela's socialist government has pledged US$15 million (€11.4 million) in total aid, sending a squadron of helicopters to deliver food to remote villages isolated by the floodwaters. Argentina has also sent helicopters, and Mexico has sent three cargo planes full of supplies.

Cuba's Communist Party newspaper Granma reported that Cuba sent a planeload of aid on Sunday and it said 400 doctors — possibly part of the 1,700-member Cuban medical detachment in the country — were working from tents to help flood victims.

Bolivian officials warned on Monday that floodwaters would continue to swell rivers on their way toward the Amazon.

U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg accompanied Monday's aid flight, and gave short speech on the tarmac as the goods were unloaded.

But as the ambassador concluded his remarks, a torrential rain began to fall, prompting the small crowd to seek cover under the giant wings of the Hercules C-130 cargo plane.

"Now we're all under the protection of the United States," Goldberg quipped, as fat raindrops blew in under the makeshift shelter. "Though I realize it's not a total protection."

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