June 15, 2000

Storm's passage across Chile leaves 60,000 homeless

                  SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- A powerful storm left some 60,000 people homeless
                  in a midweek rampage across central Chile, flooding low-lying parts of the
                  capital with the heaviest rains in years before diminishing Thursday.

                  Three days of rain tapered off Wednesday after soaking the capital,
                  Santiago, and a wide swath of the countryside. Heavy snow blocked border
                  crossings with Argentina.

                  The storm, which brought high winds and rains, signaled the approach of winter
                  in the South American hemisphere.

                  Chilean President Ricardo Lagos delayed a flight to Colombia for a regional summit and surveyed
                  inundated farm fields and slum neighborhoods by helicopter, ordering out the armed forces after
                  declaring an emergency.

                  "The army has spread out to the affected neighborhoods, and is working at the
                  task of removing the mud," said Lagos. While tens of thousands of Chileans
                  remained displaced for a second day, many others began returning home as
                  floodwaters receded.

                  Health authorities warned Thursday of a possible outbreak of influenza and other
                  respiratory diseases, say a combination of cold weather and water-soaked homes
                  made the elderly and young particularly vulnerable.

                  In the capital, the departing storms cleared the air and afforded unusually
                  sparkling clear vistas of the snowcapped Andes mountains nearby, giving
                  residents a reprieve from the gritty smog that envelopes Santiago much of the

                  At higher elevations in the towering Andes chain, heavy snowfall was reported. On
                  Wednesday, key border crossings with neighboring Argentina were reported closed
                  and some 300 trucks stranded. On the Argentine side, authorities reported snowfalls
                  between 1 and 2 meters (3-6 feet) with resort owners rejoicing at the prospect of a
                  surge in skiers.

                  Interior Minister Jose Miguel Insulza said the storms, affecting a large portion of central
                  and southern Chile, were among the worst in 20 years and had left some 39,000 homeless in
                  the interior -- the rest in or near the capital.

                  Hundreds of army conscripts, backed by teams using heavy equipment, were
                  dispatched Thursday to the hardest-hit neighborhoods. The soldiers joined civilians
                  in bucket brigades that cleared water from homes and used shovels to remove mud
                  and debris from neighborhoods and clogged storm drains.

                  Army trucks were enlisted to move entire families left homeless and calls went
                  out for donations of roofing materials, bedding, clothing, canned foods and
                  disinfectants to clean schools inundated by backed up sewer systems. Many
                  merchants spent the day clearing away water and debris outside their shops.

                  Some of the homeless were placed in a new community of small homes that was
                  built as government housing project and thrown open to the public ahead of

                  Maria Iturra was among the storm victims who pleaded for government
                  assistance. "Our mayor must help us, it is his obligation," said Iturra, who said
                  her modest home was already in bad shape from past rains.

                  Elsewhere in the capital, most schools suspended classes for a second day
                  Thursday 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.

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

                  On Wednesday, some 75 percent 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.