On March 25, Chile’s Interior Ministry declared a state of emergency for cities in the country’s northern Atacama and Antofogasta regions after flash flooding from the worst rains in two decades left at least four people dead and 22 missing. Meanwhile, high temperatures and strong winds in southern Chile are making it harder for authorities to fight forest fires that have raged for weeks and have affected over 11,000 acres in three protected areas.
Overflowing rivers in northern Chile forced residents out of their homes and onto roofs, while mudslides cut off road access to several small towns. Approximately 1,500 people had to take refuge into shelters. On Wednesday evening, 48,000 people were without drinking water and 38,500 were without electricity.
In response to the flooding, President Michelle Bachelet traveled to Copiapó in Atacama on Wednesday evening after authorizing the armed forces to assist in rescue operations.
Reuters reports that the north is home to many of Chile’s economically vital copper mines, and that 1.5 million tons of capacity were on hold due to floods. State copper mining company Codelco was among several mines to suspend operations at sites in areas affected by heavy rains.
Meanwhile, in the southern region of Araucanía, winds upwards of 43 miles per hour this week have prevented authorities from flying planes over fires and dropping liquid retardant. The Interior Ministry expected to begin flights today if winds die down. Meanwhile, the government has sought support from its neighbors, with 30 firefighters arriving from Uruguay on Wednesday. Twenty firefighters from Argentina are scheduled to arrive on Thursday and 50 from Brazil by the end of the week.
According to data from Chile’s Corporación Nacional Forestal (National Forest Corporation), forest fires have burned over 225,673 acres, nearly double last year’s average of 146,533.
Flooding and fires aren’t the only natural disasters causing concern in Chile. The Villarrica volcano, also in the Araucanía region, erupted earlier this month, forcing the evacuation of over 4,000 people. The volcano continues to spew ash and smoke.