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MAJOR READ: Floods across South America cause hundreds of deaths and widespread devastation
Updated 17.00 27/04/17 Expanded reports for Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina
Since the beginning of the year, major weather events including flooding have ravaged Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. Hundreds of people have been killed, over 200,000 have lost or cannot use their homes and over one million have been affected, most commonly by damage to their houses. Huge expanses of farmland have been inundated, destroying people's livelihoods and means of sustenance, while damage or destruction of infrastructure has been on a colossal scale.
This summary of the situation across the continent builds on some earlier briefs in AWN
PERU is by far the worst affected country. Earlier briefs on AWN were on 8 February and 27 February. The heavy rain, which has been ongoing since early December 2016, has been caused by high sea surface temperatures off the coast inducing what has been locally called a coastal El Niño and has produced broadscale coastal flooding as well as devastating flash flooding in the steep mountain streams in Peru's mountainous interior. Some of the mountain flooding has been accompanied by landslides and mudflows.
A detailed UNICEF situation report says that, as of April 17, floods and continuous rains in Peru have affected an estimated 1.2 million people with long-term devastation ("affected" meaning they may or may not need immediate support.) Of these, over 170,000 are severely affected, meaning they have suffered harm or damage to their health or belongings, especially their dwelling, from which they can't recover without help. These figures include 385,061 children and there have been 107 fatalities and 18 people are missing. Additionally, the floods destroyed 41,303 houses or left them uninhabitable and damaged another 215,691. 172 schools, and 36 health facilities have been destroyed. 92,258 hectares of cultivated land have been affected of which 28,602 have had crops completely destroyed. The most affected areas remain in the northern coastal departments of Piura, Lambayeque, La Libertad, and Ancash.
About 300 bridges and 3,200km of road which had been destroyed have now been repaired allowing access into areas where help is needed. The long-running nature of this event is straining food availability, with United Nations' child relief agency UNICEF estimating 120,000 families and 15,000 children under the age of two do not have sufficient food, clean water and sanitary living conditions. UNICEF representative Maria Luisa Fornara told the Chicago Tribune "They live in tents when there are tents and at night they start to get cold," pointing out that in those conditions, respiratory and intestinal ailments abound and children are "the first to get sick". Diseases contracted include dengue and zika, and seven people have already died of disease.
Many organisations and countries are assisting Peru overcome the disaster. This US Agency for International Development Fact Sheet gives an outline of the logistics. Peru's president estimates it will take five years and $US 9 billion to rebuild the country.
COLOMBIA: Colombia has also been hard hit, with flooding rain earlier in the year but with major landslides this month. On 31 March, around 130mm of rain fell onto already saturated ground around midnight in the town of Mocoa, 500km SW of the capital Bogota. This brought floodwaters rushing down the Mocoa, Mulato and Sancoyaco rivers, which meet in the town, triggering a major mudslide. Because of the timing, mud, rocks and debris crashed down streets and into houses as people slept. An ECHO map from Reliefweb shows the town and location of the mudslides. At least 273 people were killed with some still unaccounted for days after the event, while hundreds were injured, a large number of them critically (the death toll was later stated as over 300).
The disaster was well reported by most media. Many made comparisons with the Armero disaster of 1985 where 23,000 people lost their lives. However that was different in that it was caused by pyroclastic flows from a volcano which melted glaciers, sending volcanically induced mudslides, landslides, and debris flows down six river valleys. One engulfed the town of Armero killing 20,000 while 3,000 lost their lives in other towns. The Mocoa disaster was caused by torrential rain. A detailed account of the meteorology behind the disaster is given in a blog by Jeff Masters and Lee Grenci. Further detail is available in this Floodlist report, while good general news articles were published by Thomson Reuters Foundation, Al Jazeera (3 April and 4 April) and this video in The Guardian.
A further downpour (among many) occurred overnight 18/19 April drenching the city of Manizales, 150km west of Bogota. The local weather station at the Hospital de Caldas recorded 156.4 mm of rain in 5 or 6 hours during the night, the equivalent of the city's average rainfall for April, causing at least 40 landslides. Like Mocoa, disaster struck in the early hours of the morning, killing 17 and injuring over 20 with at least another seven missing. A map and basic situation information from ECHO are here. [More on Floodlist, Voice of America via Reliefweb, Thomson Reuters, CBS News.]
ECUADOR: Ecuador lies between Colombia and Peru and has seen similar very wet conditions with flooding and landslides, though not on the scale of those two countries. Between 1 January and 22 April, 34 people had died, 225 homes had been destroyed with around 10,000 requiring repairs, 489 families were homeless and over 35,000 had been affected in one way or another. At 12 April, infrastructure damage included 11 bridges destroyed, around 30 damaged and about 100km of roads impassable with about 1,000km damaged making delivery of aid difficult. At 2 April, 71 schools were destroyed or damaged. The worst hit regions are located near the coast and in the Sierra.
BOLIVIA, ARGENTINA, PARAGUAY, URUGUAY have experienced a wide range of unstable weather patterns in recent months leading to droughts, floods, hailstones, frost and frozen winds.
BOLIVIA: In the Potosi Department in southern Bolivia, 64% of the crops have been lost and 4,900 hectares of the remainder damaged. Drought affected planting last September and heavy rain has caused problems since then over much of Bolivia. On 3 April, the Bolivian Vice-Ministry of Civil Defense (VIDECI) reported that 28 people had been killed, 15,804 families affected and 983 houses damaged across seven Departments. On about 13 April, storms in the Cochabamba area, 230km ESE of the capital La Paz, caused flooding in many of the 30 rivers in the area, affecting at least 5,000 families and 8,000 hectares of crops and closing about 40% of the area's roads. [Relhum]
PARAGUAY: Flooding on the Argentine-Paraguay border has displaced thousands of people on both sides. Paraguayan authorities have mobilized some 13 tons of humanitarian aid to the area.
URUGUAY: In the far north of Uruguay, on the border with Brazil, very heavy rain fell in the departments of Artigas and Rivera between 9 and 10 April. Instituto Uruguayo de Meteorología (INUMET) recorded 225mm of rain in 24 hours in Rivera and over 150mm was recorded in at least nine locations across the two departments during the same period. Flooding in the Quarai River which follows the border resulted in 645 people being evacuated and 1,030 self-evacuating. Forty buildings are uninhabitable and ten destroyed. Three main roads were closed. Damage to crops is unknown, but fortunately there were no deaths. [Floodlist]
ARGENTINA: In Argentina there is broadscale river flooding which has put large tracts of land under water, hindering both stock and crop production and leading to an estimated $US2 billion in flood losses in one province alone.
From late March, two major rain events hit over a fortnight. Rain, often at unprecedented amounts, fell in the country's south accompanied by strong winds. Between 17.30 29 March and 21.00 31 March, 287.5mm was recorded in the city of Comodoro Rivadavia. That is more than the city would normally see for the whole year as, being in the rain shadow of the Andes, its annual average is only 238.7mm. Christian Garavaglia, Meteorologist at Servicio Meteorológico Nacional, is quoted by Floodlist as saying via Twitter that in the 13 days to 7 April Comodoro Rivadavia recorded 393.4 mm of rain, which he described as an "extraordinary amount." In the city, streets were transformed into rivers with mud entering the houses. Telam News Agency, the Argentine national news agency, said that "more than half [the] city was covered with mud, and roads and streets were severely damaged, with some 2,000 homes destroyed."
In the wider country, agricultural losses have been immense with an estimated 500,000 hectares under water at the height of the flooding reducing to about 240,000 on 21 April when some had drained away. Altogether, 15 provinces and 33,482 people across the country were affected and many states of emergency have been declared. 1,500 troops with helicopters and aircraft had been deployed to help with the clean-up. In Chubut Province in the south, two people died, 8,000 were evacuated or self-evacuated, and 100,000 were directly or indirectly affected. Farther north in La Pampa Province, an estimated $US2 billion in damage has occurred, with considerable losses to agricultural, livestock and cattle ranching operations. Further details, in Spanish, are on Reliefweb.