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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

At least three people are dead and 19 others missing after heavy rains s...

At least three people are dead and 19 others missing after heavy rains struck Chile over the weekend during the country's usually dry summer months, causing mudslides and water outages in the South American nation.

In the northern region of Antofagasta, the Loa River - the longest running in Chile at 440 kilometres (273 miles) - registered a considerable increase in its water level and overflowed. Along urban areas close to the river, the electricity service was suspended as a preventive measure.

In San Pedro de Atacama, the tourist destination known for such attractions as the Tatio geysers, the Valley of the Moon and for being the gateway to the Atacama Desert, some 160 people were evacuated.

Streets and homes were filled with mud. Residents lost all of their belongings. Devastated flood victim, Tita Vilca, spoke to local media of the tragedy. "All my things got wet. My bed, my covers. Everything. But what can we do?" A younger flood victim, Isabel Ramirez, complained they had received no warning from authorities.

"Between water and mud. First we had to get the water out and now the mud. Look at me, I'm up to my knees in mud. We were not evacuated. We got out by ourselves. We were not warned. If we had been warned then obviously we would've taken more precautions," Ramirez said.

The rains, which also caused rivers to overflow their banks in mountain valleys near Chile's capital, Santiago, had isolated 373 people, the Onemi emergency service said late on Sunday. The drinking-water for over a million households in Santiago had been rendered non-potable, and Aguas Andinas, the company that provides water to the capital, said rains were making repairs difficult.

"Emergency teams are working on the ground to connect with isolated persons and re-establish the water supply wherever possible," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet wrote on Twitter. The Mayor of the town of San Pedro Atacama, Aliro Catur, said all roads were practically destroyed. "Look at how the water level fo the (Loa) River grew. It hasn't seen something like this since 1968. So, roads were practically destroyed," Catur said.

Troops and heavy machinery worked to clear up the debris. In Los Andes, troops were seen looking for a missing person. "He (father) was with relatives at a barbecue. They were enjoying themselves, next to the river, it's nice but were never expecting this (flood)," said Juan Bustamante, whose father is missing after the floods.

In the San Jose de Maipo valley, directly above the city, emergency crews had to clear the roads of debris before residents could evacuate to lower, less mountainous ground. "Yesterday, very rigourous work was conducted in the missing people search. We tried to communicate with people who are isolated," said police lieutenant, Mario Blanc.

Local media reported some 30 people in San Jose Maipo are staying in shelters. Some people who were isolated were rescued by helicopter. "It was terrible because, four mudslides on the way, it was terrible. We were travelling by bus, on a tour and we were caught by mudslides, we were isolated for about five hours," said this unidentified woman.

It was the second major flooding event to hit central Chile in the past year. Last April, heavy rains battered the San Jose de Maipo valley, killing one and shutting production at some of the largest copper mines in the world. The country has also been confronting historic wildfires.


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