Latin America & Caribbean

Two dead as flash flooding hits Chile Atacama desert region

People observe the overflowing of the river Copiapo 25/03/15 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The river Copiapo overflowed into the streets of the city

Flash floods in one of the driest regions in the world - Chile's Atacama desert - have left two people dead and 24 missing, officials say.

They say thousands of people are now without electricity or water, as heavy rains in the Andes sent floodwater down into the valleys and towns below.

In the city of Copiapo, the river burst its banks.

Rescuers have begun evacuating people using helicopters because of fears of mudslides. More rain is expected.

Chile's emergency officials said one person was electrocuted on the street, while another died in a mudslide.

The government is now describing the situation in the desert town of Chanaral as "critical".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The heavy rainfall has the regions of Antofagasta, Copiapo and Coquimbo
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The military has been deployed to Copiapo to help with the emergency

President Michelle Bachelet cancelled her engagements and said she would fly to Copiapo.

The storms, which began on Tuesday evening, have cut off roads, caused power cuts and severed communications.

Local officials say 38,000 people are without electricity and 48,500 without drinking water.

"Anyone in an at-risk zone in the Atacama region should evacuate," said Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.

The floods come as southern Chile struggles with huge wildfires made worse by a severe drought.

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