SANTIAGO – Chile’s government said on Thursday that four people have died as a result of torrential rains and flooding over the past two days in the northern regions of Antofagasta and Atacama, while 22 others are listed as missing.
Deputy Interior Secretary Mahmud Aleuy provided those figures in an update on the emergency situation, which he described as the “worst rainfall-related disaster in the last 80 years.”
One man identified as Mauricio Figueroa died when a tank collapsed at a desalination plant in Antofagasta and another unidentified man drowned, Aleuy said of the most recent deaths.
The government had reported the first two deaths on Wednesday night, saying that a 24-year-old man was electrocuted at his home and a 45-year-old woman was found in the town of Chañaral in the vicinity of the Salado River, which overflowed its banks due to the intense rains.
Some 800 people spent Wednesday night at shelters in the Atacama region, while in Antofagasta the number was 684, Aleuy said.
Of the 22 listed as missing, eight are from Diego de Almagro, eight from Chañaral and six from Tierra Amarilla, the three towns hardest hit by the floods and an overflowed river.
Air force and rescue helicopters have already arrived to help people cut off by the flooding in the hard-hit areas of Alto del Carmen, Tierra Amarilla and Diego de Almagro, the deputy interior secretary said.
The rains are forecast to lessen in intensity Thursday in the coastal area of the regions of Antofagasta and Atacama and stop in the afternoon, he said.
Rainfall will continue in the sector near the Andes mountains, although with less intensity than the past two days.
The government declared a state of emergency Wednesday in the cities and towns of Antofagasta, Tierra Amarilla, Alto del Carmen and Copiapo.
A key factor in the flooding was the overflowing of some rivers that had been dry for more than a decade in the Atacama Desert, the most arid place on Earth.
President Michelle Bachelet and several of her Cabinet ministers traveled to Copiapo, a city 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Santiago, to coordinate the emergency operation.