July 12, 2006

At least 12 dead or missing in Chile after rains

By Rodrigo Martinez

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - At least 12 people, including
three firemen and a police officer doing rescue work, died or
were missing after heavy rains triggered swollen rivers and
landslides in southern Chile, officials said on Wednesday.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet traveled to the site of
a landslide that buried 10 people in the Bio Bio region, 300
miles south of the capital, and the government declared the
region a disaster zone, freeing up resources to respond.

Intense rains caused rivers to overflow, including the Bio
Bio, one of Chile's biggest waterways. Power lines and highways
were cut off in some towns, rail service was interrupted, and
deep waters flowed through the streets of the southern city of
Los Angeles and the port of Valparaiso.

Bachelet watched as workers in the town of Chiguayante,
near the coastal city of Concepcion, searched for the 10th
victim of a landslide.

Among those killed were three men from Chile's volunteer
firefighting corps, who had been searching for victims after
one landslide and were carried away in a second.

Some townspeople complained that Bachelet's arrival
interrupted search and rescue efforts in Chiguayante.

The president told reporters: "The government's principal
task is coming to help ... the people who have suffered a
tremendous catastrophe and a tremendous personal and family

Interior Minister Andres Zaldivar said 700 people were sent
to shelters in the south, but the number could rise. Thousands
were driven from their homes as rivers rose.

A policeman was rescued from the Teno River about 20 miles

downstream from where he and a fellow officer were swept
away by the raging waters. The other officer was still missing.

The two were trying to evacuate people living on the
riverbank when the flood carried away their patrol car.

(Additional reporting by Monica Vargas and Lorena Ormeno)