BUENOS AIRES – About 500 people are still being kept from returning to their homes in the northern Argentine province of Jujuy after a mudslide and flooding hit the zone earlier this week, and local authorities have declared the affected communities to be in a “disaster zone,” Red Cross officials said Thursday.
The most heavily affected towns are Volcan, with 80 percent of its dwellings flooded and 296 people being housed in shelters; Tumbaya, with structures collapsed and floodwaters up to 1.2 meters (4 feet) deep; and Barcena, with 100 of its 158 residents displaced from their homes.
In all, some 1,700 people have been affected in the three towns, and about 500 of them remain housed in shelters two days after the mudslide hit and the flooding began.
“There are many people who left but returned to their homes to protect them, which doesn’t mean that their homes are not affected,” the Argentine Red Cross communications director, Natalia Gennero, told EFE on Thursday.
In addition, in Volcan there are areas where the mud that cascaded into town in the mudslide is two meters deep, complicating “the return home” for many people much more than normal flooding would do because it affects the structures, Gennero said.
The potable water supply has been severely affected in the region and the sewer system, electricity and telephone services have all collapsed, leaving many families cut off.
“In addition, there is a scarcity of (health care items),” said Cristian Bolado, the head of the Red Cross’s emergency and disaster response department in a communique.
Portions of Highway 9, the only access route into the zone, were washed out by the mudslide and provincial authorities warned travelers crossing between Chile and Argentina that they will have to use the Sico Pass instead of the Jama Pass since the route to the latter is not open.
A man and a woman were found dead on that route on Tuesday, the only known fatalities in the mudslide and flooding, in an overturned vehicle that was swept away by the avalanche of mud and stones.
On Wednesday, the Jujuy provincial government declared the area a “disaster zone,” and implemented a state of emergency due to the “critical social, production, agricultural and infrastructure situation,” sources said.
The National Weather Service is maintaining a heavy storm alert in the area, which is already saturated with water from the torrential rains over the past two days.
The bad weather and the damage from the mudslide also affected the Dakar Rally road race, which currently is traversing northern Argentina, and on Wednesday race organizers had to cancel the ninth leg of the contest and instruct competitors to take a detour of some 200 kilometers (125 miles).