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Flooding in Chilean desert region kills at least four



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Torrential rains in a normally parched region of northern Chile triggered widespread flooding that left at least four people dead and 22 missing, officials said Thursday.

The disaster in the Atacama area has prompted the government to declare a state of emergency, which means the armed forces are handling the response.

The weather service said the rains were at least 10 times greater in volume than the region normally gets in a year. The area has seen years of drought and was not prepared for the deluge — the last major flood was in 1997.

Two people died in the city of Antofagasta, one was killed by an electrical shock and the other died when a water tank collapsed, deputy interior minister Mahmud Aleuy said.

Two other people died when they were swept away by surging waters in the Atacama region, he said.

The storms in Atacama, home to a desert of the same name, began late Tuesday.

Rain flooded the main streets in the regional capital Copiapo and in several towns. It also cut off hundreds of residents in remote areas.

Hundreds of people were left homeless after their houses were destroyed by rushing waters that also knocked out power supplies and damaged roads.

Though the heavy rains had eased by Thursday morning, they were expected to return later in the day.

President Michelle Bachelet has traveled to the region to coordinate relief operations.

The weather forced state-owned Codelco, the world’s biggest copper producer, to temporarily halt some work in the area.

Operations resumed by late Wednesday, said the company, which produces around 11 percent of the world’s copper — 1.6 million tons a year.

Flights were delayed at the Calama and Antofagasta airports, hubs for the area’s mining operations.

Authorities declared a health alert for several municipalities.

Bachelet expressed solidarity with all those affected and said her government would send all necessary resources to the area.

The floods in the north came as southern Chile battled devastating wildfires exacerbated by a severe drought

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