Chilean desert floods kill at least four

2015-03-26 19:50
Residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile. (Aton Chile, AP)

Residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile. (Aton Chile, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Copiap - Flash floods in a normally bone-dry region of northern Chile have killed at least four people and left 22 missing, officials said on Thursday, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency and send in the army.

The downpour began late on Tuesday in the Atacama region, home to the world's most arid desert, and lashed the area for hours, turning riverbeds that had been dry for years into torrents.

Desperate residents climbed onto the roofs of their houses or fled to high ground to escape the flood waters, which turned the streets of the area's towns into rivers that swept up everything in their path.

The interior ministry declared a state of emergency on Wednesday night and invoked a constitutional clause transferring power from the regional government to the military.

The weather forced state copper company Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, to temporarily halt operations in Atacama and the neighboring region of Antofagasta.

As Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo urged residents to evacuate, the army declared a curfew for the Atacama region and the city of Antofagasta.

About 40 000 people were left without electricity and as many or more without potable water, officials said.

President Michelle Bachelet said the downpour - equivalent to at least 10 times the previously drought-hit region's average annual rainfall - had caught authorities off-guard.

"The prior assessment was that there was an enormous drought, so rain would not necessarily be a catastrophe. It is very difficult to plan for, because there was no way to know," said Bachelet, who flew into the disaster zone Wednesday night.

"Obviously today there's a realization that once the emergency is over, defenses will need to be built up to prevent these things from happening in the future."

Electrocuted

One of those killed in the flooding was a 34-year-old man who was electrocuted, the interior ministry said. Another, a 35-year-old man, was killed by a water tank that collapsed.

Both died in Antofagasta, a port city of about 380 000 people.

Two more victims were killed when they were swept away by flood waters in Atacama.

The heavy rains had eased by Thursday morning, but emergency workers were still scrambling to deal with the aftermath.

Fifteen helicopters were working to airlift residents out of the disaster zone, and classes were cancelled so emergency shelters could be set up in schools.

Officials said 800 people had sought refuge in emergency shelters in Atacama and 680 in Antofagasta.

Floods also cut off hundreds of residents in remote areas.

Comms cut

Social media networks were rife with messages from people trying to get in touch with their loved ones, but communications were cut off for much of the affected area.

Flights were delayed at the Calama and Antofagasta airports, hubs for the area's mining operations.

Chile, the world's largest copper producer, is responsible for about one-third of total global output, or 5.6 million tons per year.

Mining firms Anglo American and Antofagasta Minerals also suspended operations in the flood-hit region.

The area had seen years of drought, with the last major flood in 1997.

The floods in the north came as southern Chile battled devastating wildfires exacerbated by a severe drought.

The area around the Villarrica volcano in southern Chile was also placed on orange alert. The volcano has shown signs of increased activity recently, just weeks after it erupted and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

Read more on:    michelle bachelet  |  chile  |  floods

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.