Chile desert rains sign of climate change: chief weather scientist

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 27, 2015 6:13 PM

By Rosalba O'Brien

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The heavy rainfall that battered Chile's usually arid north this week happened because of climate change, a senior meteorologist said, as the region gradually returns to normal after rivers broke banks and villages were cut off.

"For Chile, this particular system can only be possible in an environment of a changed climate," Deputy Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization Jeremiah Lengoasa told Reuters on a visit to Santiago on Friday.

The intense rainfall that began Tuesday in an area that is home to the Atacama, the world's driest desert, had resulted in nine deaths by Friday, with 19 people still missing, nearly 6,000 people in temporary housing and some roads cut off, the government's emergency office Onemi said.

Under a more familiar beating sun, people began to trickle back to debris-strewn villages and smashed houses. A curfew is in place in the Atacama region tonight, Onemi said, while operations at some mines in the top copper producer are still on hold.

Local media reported that one of those who lost his home was Victor Zamora, one of the 33 miners whose dramatic rescue from a mine in nearby Copiapo in 2010 attracted global attention.

While the worst seems to be over, Chile can expect to see more of this kind of event in the future, Lengoasa said.

"This is an example of an extreme (event) - it's an unprecedented event in a place where you would not normally expect it to happen," he said.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Bernard Orr)