March 26, 2015 1:05 am

Heavy rains cause flooding in usually bone-dry Chile desert

Residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Unusually heavy thunder storms and torrential rains that began on Tuesday have blocked roads, caused power outages and affected some 600 people on this normally dry region.

AP Photo/Aton Chile
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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Flooding caused by abnormally heavy rains cut roads, knocked out electricity and threatened several communities in the usually bone-dry Atacama desert region in Chile early Thursday.

Local media quoted police as saying two people had been killed in the coastal town of Chanaral. At least 24 people were listed as missing in three communities hit by flooding, Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy said.

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Chile’s government declared a state of emergency in the region Wednesday, putting the region under military control. President Michelle Bachelet flew to the area Wednesday evening to observe the problems first hand.

Thunderstorms with torrential rains moved in Tuesday, causing the Copiapo River to overflow its banks and forcing evacuations because of fears of mudslides. TV images showed brown, muddy waters flooding the streets and reaching a hospital in Copiapo city.

Some people living along the river had to be rescued by helicopter because roads were blocked by water and mud, but some residents refused to leave their homes.

Chile’s state-run copper giant Codelco said it was temporarily suspending mining operations in the area due to blocked roads, but added that flooding had not affected its sites, including the world’s largest open-pit copper mine.

Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said the state of emergency was issued to expedite getting all resources possible to rescue those affected.

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