Chile sends army into flood-hit region

COPIAPS, Chile: Chile sent in the army Wednesday to take control after heavy rains flooded towns across the northern region of Atacama, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency.

The torrential storms, unusual for this normally arid region, caused the government to invoke a “constitutional state of emergency” under which “the armed forces assume control of the region,” said Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.

“Anyone in an at-risk zone in the Atacama region (should) evacuate. What we need is for you to get to safety,” said Penailillo, who planned to travel to the disaster zone.

The storms, which began Tuesday evening, have affected 600 people, cut off roads, caused power outages and severed communications around the region, officials said.

They left 38,500 people without electricity and 48,500 without potable water.

The region is home to the Atacama Desert, the most arid in the world.

Authorities cancelled school across the region and in the neighboring city of Antofagasta, and declared a health alert for several municipalities.

Flights were delayed at the Calama and Antofagasta airports, hubs for the mining companies that operate in the area.

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

President Michelle Bachelet expressed her “solidarity with all those affected” and said her government would send all necessary resources to the region.

The floods came as southern Chile battled devastating wildfires exacerbated by a severe drought.