ANTOFAGASTA – After days of heavy rainfall in the northern regions, the national emergency agency Onemi has issued a Code Yellow Alert. The Atacama Desert, “the driest and oldest desert on Earth,”, as reported in Nature, “has already experienced a number of highly unusual rain events over the past three years.” Rivers have burst their banks, causing roads and villages to overflow.
2019 has brought some unexpected weather to the northern parts of Chile. Heavy rains hit the region of Antofagasta, causing roads and border closures, after they got affected by mud streams.
Declaring a Yellow Alert in the region, authorities announced that the rains are expected to reach the highland area in the Tarapacá and Atacama regions and it is also expected in Arica and Parinacota.
According to the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior (ONEMI), the Emergency Operating Committee (EOC) of the Province of El Loa in the north met on Monday to discuss the situation, especially because it is expected that the rains will continue for several more days, reaching 10 to 20 mm for 10 to 12 hours.
The committee said that the rains will result in more road and crossing closures in the area, and that they will likely cause rockslides and mudslides.
NACIONAL | Se suspendió el tránsito vehicular en la ruta Calama a San Pedro de Atacama producto del mal estado de caminos. pic.twitter.com/uQ2d57AT8U
— Sismologia Chile (@SismologiaCh) January 31, 2019
“We already have well-prepared plans of how to handle things in case anything happens, like evacuating some people from the dangerous areas,” the regional director of ONEMI, Ricardo Munizaga said.
Rain also reached the commune of Calama, where roads to it were closed and the Loa River was flooded, so officials for El Loa, a province in Calama, asked the community to be on alert.
Flooding and electrical storms
The governor of El Loa, María Bernarda Jopia, has also confirmed that “the rainfall caused problems in Alto Loa, and we have the Loa River bridge closed by the flood of the river.”
“Rio Grande is impassable in San Pedro de Atacama and routes B-07 and B-245 are also closed,” she added.
— PIENSA.PRENSA (@PiensaPrensa) February 1, 2019
In a statement on its website, Chile’s Meteorological Office also warned of possible electrical storms around Arica-Parinacota and Tarapacá.
Normally very dry
Unlike south and central Chile, the north is very dry, and the Atacama Desert, especially so. Just how dry is it? “Dry deserts” receive less than an average of 250 mm of rain per year. The Atacama receives less than an average of 1 mm a year.
Because of this, people there often struggle to make a living, except in mining, which is the major commercial activity in the area and includes, copper, lithium, and saltpeter, among others.
Mohammad Arafat, 26, is a graduate of the Islamic University of Gaza, where he studied English. He aspires to become “a voice for people, expressing their hopes and pains, helping them pursue their dreams in the face of adversity and demonstrating that every life matters.” A freelance writer, Mohammad already has self-published his own book, “Still Living There,” which he disseminates through Amazon.