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Argentine Floods Kill 16 After 55 Inches of Rain in Two Days

May 04, 2003|From Reuters

BUENOS AIRES — The worst flooding to hit Argentina's farming heartland in memory has killed 16 people and forced 100,000 from their homes -- with some evacuees taking shelter in cemetery crypts -- officials said Friday.

Vast tracts of land are submerged under several feet of water in the central farming province of Santa Fe after a major river broke its banks. Residents must navigate the streets in boats, while others sit out the floods on the rooftops of their sodden homes amid fears of opportunistic looting.

"There are now 16 confirmed dead," said provincial police chief Miguel Belletti, adding that 50,000 people had been evacuated from the provincial capital and a similar number from towns across the province.

The Salado River burst its banks after 55 inches of rain fell in two days earlier in the week, flooding towns throughout the nation's second-leading soy-producing province. The average rainfall for the area is 32 inches per year.

Floodwaters covered much of the area around the provincial capital, Santa Fe, 300 miles from Buenos Aires. Water began to recede Friday but many residents remained without drinking water and electricity, the government said.

Caretaker President Eduardo Duhalde has declared Santa Fe a disaster zone. The World Bank plans to lend $123 million to help the province.

"The only thing I have is the clothes on my back; everything else is under water," a flood victim told reporters.

Thousands of Buenos Aires residents have pooled tons of food and clothing which are being trucked to the province. The supplies are being stored in soccer stadiums.

But in a land still struggling to emerge from its worst ever economic crisis, local media said robbers had hijacked a handful of trucks and stolen the donations they were carrying.

Some 7.5 million acres of farmland are under water, according to the government. Most farmland lies north of the flood and 70% of the soybeans already have been harvested. Some highways remain closed and railroads are blocked.

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