Chile – Emergency Declared After Rain and Floods in Atacama

The government in Chile has declared an emergency after flooding caused severe damage in Atacama region.

Floods in Atacama, Chile, January 2020. Photo: Carabineros Atacama

President Sebastián Piñera and Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel visited the affected areas on 28 January, where the President declared a state of emergency for the communes of Copiapó, Tierra Amarilla, Diego de Almagro, Chañaral and Alto del Carmen.

Images from emergency teams working in the area showed towns swamped with mud and flood water around 1 metre deep. Several people were reported missing in the floods but have since been located, according to Chile’s disaster management agency (ONEMI – Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública). Flooding has also caused major damage to agriculture in the area.

ONEMI said that evacuations had been carried out in Alto del Carmen and Tierra Amarilla communes. One flood-related fatality was reported in Alto del Carmen. Power supply has been interrupted for around 800 people in El Tránsito in Alto del Carmen.

The region has experienced heavier than normal rainfall since mid-January, in particular over from 27 January, 2020. The Mayor of Atacama, Patricio Urquieta, said that approximately 16 mm of rain fell in El Tránsito. The relatively small amount of rainfall is significant in this otherwise dry, desert region where many areas see less than 15mm of rain in a year.

An alert for heavy rain and thunderstorms was issued by the Chilean Meteorological Directorate (DMC), warning that further heavy rain could reach daily totals of up to 15 mm. Warnings were also issued for neighbouring Antofagasta and Coquimbo regions.

Catastrophic flooding hit Atacama, Antofagasta and Coquimbo in March 2015 when 26 deaths were confirmed, 125 people reported missing and over 8,000 houses damaged or destroyed.

Floods in Atacama, Chile, January 2020. Photo: Carabineros Atacama

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