Citizens are being evacuated as floods leave seven dead in the Atacama Chile region and puts the area in a state of emergency. Officials issued a state of emergency while rescue workers attempt to find the 19 still missing in flash floods and others are being rescued by helicopter.
One of those killed in the floods died from electrocution as flood waters poured into city streets and hit electrical lines. A mudslide killed the another victim and a third flood victim died when a water tank collapsed. It is uncertain exactly how the other victims died in the deluge, but several drowned when rushing waters swept them away. Officials are telling flooding victims to go to safe zones where they can be taken out of the region. Helicopter rescues are necessary because roads have been washed out in the storms, according to officials. Fifteen helicopters were in the air on Thursday attempting rescues from the floods and schools were shuttered in order for the facilities to be used as emergency shelters. Almost 1,500 people are in shelters in Atacama and Antofagasta.
There are currently approximately 40,000 people without electricity and portable water due to the floods. The state of emergency not only allows for assistance to come to the area, but also allows for the military to secure storm-ravaged areas from looting and other crimes. Approximately 2,400 soldiers have been deployed to secure the region.
Several cities like Copiapo and Chanaral were in the path of the flood waters steaming down the Andes into the desert valleys. A hospital in Copiapo was also dealing with floods as water reached its doors. Rains, which began on Tuesday, continued through the week. One of the world’s largest copper operations, Codelco, was forced by the flooding to suspend operations because travel was impossible, but officials said flooding did not affect the mines. Anglo-American and Antofagasta Minerals, two other mining operations, suspended work at some of the mines in the flooded areas.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet visited the devastated area to see the damage first-hand and show support for flooding victims. Bachelet said officials knew heavy rain was coming, but were caught surprised at the devastating amount of rainfall. The president said the rain, amounting to 10 times the amount of rain the region sees in a year, was not seen as a negative to the region when weather predictions were first discussed. The area is a desert in the midst of a tremendous drought so officials, at first, thought the rain would be a welcomed relief.
Chile is not the only country affected by the storms. Part of the Atacama region falls in Peru. Rains in Peru are causing significant landslides. The landslides have killed eight people and injured 25 others. Rescue workers are still searching for six others. The district of Lurigancho Chosica was one of the worst hit and heavy machinery was sent to lift large rocks and dirt from homes in rescue attempts. Like Chili, a state of emergency has been issued by Peru’s president Ollanta Humala.
Officials said this is the worst rain to come to the region in 80 years. The cause is a cold front in the Andes mountains. With existing high temperatures there, the front created rain in the high altitudes when it normally would produce snow. The rain then moved down to cities in the mountains’ foothills. The result is floods that leave seven dead as other citizens are being rescued.
By Melody Dareing
Channel News Asia
Photo courtesy of Annais Ferreira – Flickr license