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ARGENTINA | 13-06-2024 17:40

State of 'catastrophe' as cold front and downpours hit Chile

Thousands affected as Chile issues first top level weather warning in two decades. Cold front moves towards Argentina.

Heavy rains battered south and central Chile on Thursday, killing one person and causing damage to hundreds of homes as authorities declared a state of catastrophe in five regions.

A person died in the southern city of Linares when a street lamp post fell after hours-long downpours and strong winds, the Senapred disaster response service said.

In the latest official report, Interior Minister Carolina Toha said "the worst of this frontal system is behind us, but we cannot let our guard down."

Chile issued the first top-level weather warning in two decades for its capital in response to the crisis.

The cold front which hit much of Chile with heavy rain and wind moved towards Argentina on Thursday, after leaving one person dead and over 3,000 people affected in the centre and south of the country, according to an up-to-date report by authorities.

After over 24 hours of rainfall, “the worst of the frontal system in the Coquimbo, Metropolitana, Valparaíso and O'Higgins regions is now behind us”, said Interior Undersecretary Manuel Monsalve.

The front followed its path towards Argentina, and thus Chilean authorities cancelled the weather warning they had triggered on Wednesday. 
“Some 80 percent of this frontal system has already left Chile and is in Argentine territory,” added Monsalve.

The Chilean Weather Bureau had issued an unusual “meteorological alarm”: the top level of warnings to the population for heavy rain and wind in six of the country’s 16 regions: Coquimbo (north), Valparaíso and Metropolitana (centre), and O'Higgins, Ñuble and Biobío (south).

The emergency applied to 14 of the 20 million inhabitants of Chile, where authorities decreed a state of “catastrophe.”

On Thursday afternoon the rainfall also started to subside in the Chilean capital, where this level of alarm had not been triggered in the last two decades. For 15 years now the central area of Chile has been suffering from intense drought.

Southern Chile was the area most battered by rainfall. Many cities were flooded after several rivers overflowed.

“We need boats to be able to get people out,” said on Chilean National Television one of the people affected in the city of Curanilahue (Biobío), 600 kilometres south of Santiago, the epicentre of the flooding according to authorities.

According to the latest report from the National Service for Prevention of and Response to Disasters (Senapred in its Spanish acronym), the rainfall so far has left 3,297 people affected, the vast majority in the south of the country.

In an early report on Thursday, the Senapred had reported 4,304 victims. The front left one person dead in the city of Linares (south).

In the city of Curanilahue, the Curanilahue and Las Ranas rivers overflowed after over the last few hours nearly 350 mm of rain fell, a figure exceeding the entire rainfall in the region last year.

Interior Minister Carolina Tohá moved to the site to assess the damage, and to visit shelters for victims. Some 2,000 homes were affected by the flooding.

In Santiago, some 33 millimetres of rain had fallen. This is expected to rise to 80 millimetres, the same amount forecast for the entire month of June in a normal year. 

In the capital, which houses nine of the nearly 20 million people in Chile, much of the population decided to stay home. 

Flooding was reported in some of the outskirts.

The cold front was accompanied “by an atmospheric river” classified between 4-5 in a maximum scale of five, given the amount of steam available, which considerably increased the amount expected,” according to the Weather Bureau.

Within the emergency, authorities cancelled classes in the Chilean capital and other affected regions and asked the population to limit their journeys.

In the city of Viña del Mar, 110 km west of Santiago, there is an alert over the potential collapse of a 12-storey building and 200 flats in the Reñaca district.

Rainfall over the weekend caused a sinkhole over 15 metres wide and 30 metres deep underneath the property.



– TIMES/AFP

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