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Latin America flooding forces over 100,000 to flee

More than 100,000 evacuate homes in Paraguay and other countries because of severe flooding linked to El Niño

More than 100,000 people have had to evacuate their homes in the border area of Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina because of severe flooding after heavy summer rains brought on by El Niño, authorities said Saturday.

In the worst-affected country, Paraguay, about 90,000 people in the area around the capital, Asunción, have been evacuated, the municipal Emergencies Office said. Many are poor families living in precarious housing along the banks of the Paraguay River.

The Paraguayan government has declared a state of emergency in Asunción and seven other regions of the country to free up funds to help those affected. Several people have been killed by falling trees in the storms that caused the flooding, local media reported. There is no official death toll yet.

In Alberdi, some 75 miles south of Asunción, the government recommended that several thousand people living along the banks of the River Paraguay evacuate.

El Niño, a recurring warming of surface water in the eastern equatorial Pacific, leads to global shifts in climate, most markedly in the Western Hemisphere. "[The flooding] was directly influenced by the El Niño phenomenon, which has intensified the frequency and intensity of rains," the national Emergencies Office said.

Michel Jarraud, the chief of the U.N. weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization, said in a statement last month, "Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and subtropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño, which is the strongest in more than 15 years."  

Officials at the Emergencies Office said the Paraguay River might rise even more in the coming days, stabilizing and falling back to normal from January onward.

In northern Argentina, about 20,000 people have had to abandon their homes, the government said Saturday. "We are going to have a few complicated months. The consequences will be serious," said Ricardo Colombi, the governor of the Corrientes region, after flying over the worst-affected areas with national Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña.

Peña said that national government aid was already on its way and that President Mauricio Macri, who took office earlier this month, intends to make improving infrastructure a priority so that such flooding does not occur again. "Argentina has a very big lack of infrastructure," Peña said. Macri will visit the flooded areas on Sunday.

In Uruguay, more than 9,000 people have had to flee their homes, according to the national Emergencies Office, which added that it expected water levels to remain at their current level for several days before subsiding.

At least four people have died in Argentina and Uruguay because of the storms and floods, according to local media reports. One was reported to have drowned, and another was electrocuted by a fallen power cable.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff flew over the flooded areas on the border with Argentina and Uruguay on Saturday morning. Rio Grande do Sul state Civil Defense said 1,795 people were left homeless there after 38 towns were affected by heavy rains.


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