21,000 made homeless as storm rocks Chile

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The Independent US

A powerful storm has left 21,000 people homeless during its midweek passage across central Chile, waterlogging streets with the heaviest rains in years.

A powerful storm has left 21,000 people homeless during its midweek passage across central Chile, waterlogging streets with the heaviest rains in years.

Three days of rain, have sent thousands packing to temporary shelters and forced President Ricardo Lagos to disrupt a visit to Colombia for a Group of Rio summit.

Lagos toured the hard-hit central region by helicopter, surveying farm fields and slum neighborhoods that were submerged.

In the capital, the departing storm cleared the air and afforded unusual vistas of the snow-capped mountains nearby, giving residents a reprieve from the gritty smog that envelopes Santiago much of the year.

Interior Minister Jose Miguel Insulza said the storms, affecting a large portion of central and southern Chile, were among the worst in 20 years. Forecasters said six inches of rain were dumped between Monday and Wednesday.

Most schools suspended classes and university students heeded a government call to take part in an aid campaign for the victims. The government opened a bank account for donations.

Military personnel fanned out to low-lying neighborhoods of the capital to clear drains and shovel out the mud left behind in many homes after the waters retreated.

In order to free $2 million in government aid, Santiago and the neighbouring Pacific port of Valparaiso had been declared disaster zones. Valparaiso was hit by flooding, while landslides were reported outside that city.

Some 75 per cent of the streets in the capital were submerged at the storm's height. The Mapocho River, which crosses through the capital, overflowed its banks, flooding fields on the outskirts of the city. Many routes into the capital were closed because of the water.

Hardest hit were working class neighborhoods and slums. Many more have been left homeless because of flooding in the interior of the country.

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