The Heat Is Online

Chile Hit By Worst Flooding In More Than A Century

Torrential rains kill 10 in Chile

The most violent storm to hit Santiago in nearly a century, June 5, 2002

Several days of torrential rains have left at least 10 people dead and forced tens of thousands from their homes in central Chile.

The capital, Santiago, its surrounding areas and nearby coastal areas were the hardest hit in what was described as the most violent storm system to hit the country in nearly a century.

Four of the victims were buried by landslides in the coastal town of Los Molles, 150 kilometres (93 miles) from Santiago.

Three people have been reported missing in the floods, and officials warn the number could rise.

Schools remained closed on Wednesday for a third day running, after the streets of the capital were turned into rivers.

Universities were also closed so that students could help with the clean-up operation as the rains started to get lighter.

According to the National Emergency Bureau (Onemi) a year's worth of rain fell on Santiago on Monday night alone.

Fifty thousand people had to be evacuated from their homes, many in inflatable boats or helicopters.

Officials estimate that thousands of people have lost their homes, or seen them seriously damaged, in the poorest areas of Santiago and the coast.

Weather reports say the rain is moving north, raising fears of more flooding.

Floods kill nine in Chile; economy hit, June 4, 2002

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) -- Nine Chileans died and thousands were forced from their homes in storms that caused economic chaos Tuesday.

Meteorologists said the torrential rains sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean might be the beginning of a new El Nino weather phenomenon.

Bankers and brokers scurried home through muddy streets after the Santiago stock exchange closed two hours early. Production at a key copper mine was halted.

The government's National Office of Emergencies said it was the worst flooding in more than a century in Chile, a thin, earthquake-prone land stretching from the arid Atacama Desert in the north to stormy Cape Horn near Antarctic.

"We have been up all night fighting against this," said homeowner Claudio Rojas, sweeping rainwater from his house in a low-lying neighborhood near Santiago airport.

A distressed woman made a call on Chilean television for viewers to help find her five young children.

"They said my children were taken to a shelter but I searched and I can't find them. I need them. Please help," she pleaded.

Meteorologists said more than 7.8 inches of rain have fallen on the capital since Sunday, two-thirds the city's average rainfall for a whole year.

Copper hit

An electricity blackout caused by the storms halted copper production at the Los Bronces mine, owned by a unit of Exxon Mobil Corporation.

The stock market closed early for a second straight session and trading in the Chilean peso was also limited. The currency slid 0.26 percent, partly due to a fall in the Brazilian real.

"The amount of transactions has fallen dramatically in the last two days. Today, at least 60 percent of the clients I called didn't answer their phones," said trader Guillermo Farias.

"The only thing I got was a cold, after getting soaked."

Police helicopters plucked stranded farmers and their families from flooded rural areas northwest of the city.

Treetops and roofs of houses poked up through the brown water.

Government officials said the homes of 33,000 people in central Chile had been seriously damaged. Several thousand took shelter in schools and public buildings.

Weather experts said the Chilean storms could be a sign that the El Nino phenomenon, which begins in the Pacific north of Chile, is taking shape.

Martin Hoerling, research scientist at the NOAA Climate Diagnostic Center in Boulder, Colorado, said warming ocean temperatures associated with El Nino can affect atmospheric conditions that lead to the kinds of storms Chile is having.

But he said the rains, not unusual in the Southern Hemisphere winter, were not real proof that El Nino had begun.

"What you're beginning to experience could be a harbinger of things to come. Is this particular storm caused by El Nino?

Obviously not. Is it related? Yes it could be," he told Reuters.

A new El Nino is expected this year, although the U.S. government says its effects should be milder than in 1997 when it was blamed for 24,000 deaths and $34 billion in damage worldwide.

Copyright 2002 Reuters. All rights reserved.