WARNING: Disturbing content:
Heartbreaking images have emerged of a grief-stricken mother carrying her dead daughter to the morgue as power cuts and water shortages in Venezuela took a deadly turn.
The severely malnourished 19-year-old girl died in her mother's arms after doctors were forced to turn her away because a massive blackout shut down a hospital, the Daily Mail reported.
Elizabeth Diaz had earlier visited a local Integral Diagnostic Center [CDI] in the northern city of Valencia but was turned away due to power cuts and told to seek help at the medical centre in Las Lomas.
According to Díaz, her daughter - who suffered from cerebral paralysis and chronic malnourishment before getting sick on Saturday - was convulsing before she felt the teenager's body stiffen.
Upon arriving at the second hospital, the family was shunned at the entrance because it didn't have a functional backup power generator.
Díaz's daughter died her arms moments later.
The heartbroken mother was then forced to carry her daughter to the morgue.
The images of the teenager's sudden death have gone viral, and it has highlighted conditions inside the South American country where basic necessities like food, water and medicine are in short supply.
In another case, a 3-year-old girl with a brain tumour languished in a Caracas hospital, awaiting treatment after doctors started surgery but then suspended the operation when nationwide power outages first hit on Thursday, said the girl's fearful mother, who only gave her first name, Yalimar.
"The doctors told me that there are no miracles," said Yalimar, who hopes her daughter can be transferred Tuesday to one of the few hospitals in Venezuela that would be able to finish the complex procedure.
It is just another example of the unfolding horror in Venezuela, where years of hardship got abruptly worse after the power grid collapsed. On Monday, schools and businesses were closed, long lines of cars waited at the few gasoline stations with electricity and hospitals cared for many patients without power. Generators have alleviated conditions for some of the critically ill.
Late Monday, President Nicolas Maduro said on national television that progress had been made in restoring power in Venezuela. He also said two people who were allegedly trying to sabotage power facilities were captured and were providing information to authorities, though he gave no details.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido and his chief ally, the United States, say Maduro's claims that the US sabotaged the power grid with a "cyberattack" are an attempt to divert attention from the government's own failings.
There have been acts of kindness during Venezuela's crisis: People whose food would rot in fridges without power donated it to a restaurant, which cooked it for distribution to charitable foundations and hospitals.
The blackouts have also hit the oil industry. The country hasn't shipped US$358 million in oil since the power failures started, and "the whole system is grinding to a halt," said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets.
Two large tankers are sitting empty at the Jose offshore oil-loading dock, and at least 19 other ships are waiting their turns there, Dallen said.
Engineers have restored power in some parts of Venezuela, but it often goes out again. There have been a few protests in Caracas and reports of similar anti-government anger elsewhere. Guaido tweeted about reports of looting in some cities, but details were difficult to confirm.
Security forces in the city of Maracaibo dispersed "criminals" trying to take advantage of the power cuts, Mayor Willy Casanova told local media.
However, numerous videos posted on social media that purported to be from Maracaibo showed crowds roaming the streets and people running from looted, damaged buildings with no police in sight.
In Caracas, some people reported more sightings of "colectivos," a term for armed groups allegedly operating on behalf of the state to intimidate opponents. While Maduro and other government officials said they were working to provide basic necessities, the mood in Caracas was desperate.
Marian Morales, a nurse working for a Catholic youth group, and several colleagues handed out diapers and food from their car, parked near a hospital. Police and men in civilian clothing ordered them to leave, saying they didn't have permission.
Morales said the needy are cautious about approaching to collect the handouts because of the presence of security forces.
The opposition-controlled National Assembly debated the power cuts and declared that the situation was an emergency, a largely symbolic move aimed at pressuring Maduro.
Early Monday, an explosion rocked a power station in the Baruta area of Caracas. Residents gathered to look at the charred, smouldering equipment.
Guaido said three of four electricity transformers servicing the area were knocked out. He has blamed the blackouts on alleged government corruption and mismanagement.
Winston Cabas, the head of Venezuela's electrical engineers union, which opposes the government, disputed government allegations that the dam was sabotaged. He blamed a lack of maintenance as well as the departure of skilled workers from the troubled country over the years.
"The system is vulnerable, fragile and unstable," he said.
Spain's airline pilots union asked for Spanish airline Air Europa to stop flying to Venezuela after one of its crews was attacked at gunpoint in Caracas. The Sepla union said two pilots and eight more crew members of a flight from Madrid were assaulted on Saturday while going from the airport to their hotel in the Venezuelan capital. None of the crew members was injured.
Air Europa responded by ordering the crews of flights to Venezuela to not spend the night in the country, according to the union.
Meanwhile, the United States announced late Monday that it is pulling the remaining staff from its embassy in Venezuela, citing the deteriorating situation in the South American nation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision.
The US has led an international effort to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who vows to hold a new presidential election. Guaido is backed by some 50 countries, while Maduro maintains support from countries such as China, Russia and Cuba.
Maduro had ordered all US diplomats to leave Venezuela in late January because of its support from Guaido, but he retreated and allowed them to stay. The US still withdrew dependents of embassy personnel as well as some of the staff. Pompeo said the remaining diplomats would be out of Venezuela by the end of the week.
- additional reporting AP