The Heat Is Online

Millions Lost to Flooding in Chile's Driest Region

Chile's desert north flooded
The Weather Channel, Feb. 20, 2001

Severe flooding in Chile's desert north has washed away homes and possessions and halted transportation into neighboring Peru and Bolivia.

The Lluta and San Jose rivers burst their banks Friday morning, destroying nearly everything in their path from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean. Initial estimates put the damage to infrastructure and crops at $8.9 million. That does not include the $2 million a day in lost trade with Bolivia or the expense of rebuilding and compensating residents.

The Chilean government has declared the region around the city of Arica a disaster zone and will make aid available. Many residents of the region have lost all of their crops for the year and had their irrigation pipelines destroyed.

"I've been left with nothing, no land and nothing to sell," said one farmer.

The Lluta, normally about 60 meters wide, is currently 600 meters wide in some places. Every bridge across the river has been destroyed. The Army is constructing temporary bridges to reconnect Arica with Tacna, Peru via the Pan-American Highway.

Arica is located near the Atacama Desert, considered the driest in the world. There are places in the Atacama where no rainfall has ever been recorded. In the higher elevations of the Andean altiplano, however, summer rains are normal, said Christian Rousseau, a meteorologist at

"This year the intensity of the rains has been abnormal. When that happens, the few rivers that carry the water from the mountains to the ocean are overwhelmed," Rousseau said.