SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Communities in Chile's northern desert region dug houses and cars out of the mud and worked to reopen roads Friday after floods pummeled several cities and left nine people dead.
Nineteen people were also missing after the torrential rains in the Atacama Desert, the world's driest, said Interior Sub-secretary Mahmud Aleuy.
"As we clear the roads and flooded zones, we may have a higher number of dead and missing," he Aleuy said.
Aleuy said roads had been cut to over 40 communities, many of which did not have access to potable water or electricity.
The heavy rains on Wednesday and Thursday swelled rivers and led to flash-flooding in cities including Copiapo, Chanaral, Tierra Amarilla and Taltal, all hundreds of miles (kilometers) north of Santiago.
The precipitation in Antofagasta, 855 miles (1,376 kilometers) north of Santiago, provided a stark example of the abnormal rain. Between Wednesday and Thursday morning, about an inch of rain (24 millimeters) fell on the city, which is in an area that typically receives only about 0.07 inches (1.7 millimeters) of rain in a year, according to the country's meteorological service. By Thursday night the rains had stopped.
President Michelle Bachelet said Friday that authorities were sending medicines, including insulin, anti-hepatitis and tetanus shots, to stave off outbreaks. Extra police and military personnel were also being deployed in several areas, she said.
Ricardo Toro, director of the National Emergency Office, said about 6,000 people spent Thursday night in shelters but thousands of others had stayed in their homes for fear of mudslides.
The deluge came after several days of high temperatures and a drought that stoked raging wildfires in Chile's south-central regions.
The fires have burned nearly 93,000 hectares in the 2014-2015 season, far above the annual average of 59,300 over the previous five years.
Several mines, including Chile's state-run copper giant Codelco, suspended work in recent days due to blocked roads, but most had reopened by Friday.