The death toll from the heavy rains and flash floods that have pounded Buenos Aires City and La Plata, capital of the Buenos Aires province have climbed to at least 54, and could increase, Argentine authorities said on Wednesday.
The tsunami of rain, as it has been called, has forced thousands of people to be evacuated and caused significant damage to homes and infrastructure. An estimated 600.000 people in the area have no power, drinking water or working phone lines.
The Argentine government is working with provincial and local authorities to evacuate homes which in some La Plata neighborhoods were flooded with more than 1.5 meters of water.
Of the 48 confirmed fatalities in La Plata, 60 kilometers south of the national capital, only 24 have been identified, said Buenos Aires provincial security minister Ricardo Casal, adding that among the identified dead there was just one young person, a 21-year-old man, and all the rest were people over age 50.
The governor of Buenos Aires province Daniel Scioli told the media earlier on Wednesday that the number of fatalities there exceeded 46, while eight people are known to have died in the city of Buenos Aires.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on Wednesday afternoon went first to La Plata, her birthplace, and later to Mitre, one of the Buenos Aires neighborhoods most affected by the storms, to survey the flooded areas and speak with local residents.
She revealed her mother’s home in La Plata was also flooded with no power and recalled that when she was 12/13 years old ‘the city has suffered a similar climate phenomenon”.
The Argentine government also decreed three days of national mourning for the victims of the weather catastrophe and deployed army troops to the flooded areas to help assist the people affected by the storm.
Scioli stressed the priority of saving the lives that can be saved.
”The priority is human (life), after which the material damage will be evaluated and how those affected can be helped to recover what they've lost, he said.
It was a deluge without historical precedent. So, the people have been surprised in the worst way and some did not have time to be able to escape this fatal trap, Scioli said.
The governor said that army troops and firefighters are going house to house to rescue the people who took refuge from floodwaters in trees or on the roofs of their homes.
The situation is very complex, said Scioli, who called the deluge a tsunami of rain” and added that the local schools have been established as evacuation centers.
Scioli added that vigilance has been reinforced with 400 policemen since many residents fear looting if they abandon their homes. Security, mattresses, blankets, drinking water and diapers figure in the list of priorities the homes that suffered the ‘tsunami of rain’.
The Buenos Aires governor also announced that with the help from national authorities, there will be subsidies and soft credits to help rebuild homes and acquire new appliances for all those who suffered the consequences of the disaster.
Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni said that more than 3.000 people have been evacuated and warned that authorities are not ruling out an increase in the death toll in La Plata as rescue and recovery efforts continue.
Argentine Planning Minister Julio de Vido said that more than 73.000 homes were still without electricity in the wake of the storm, although power had been restored to some 177.000 homes that had suffered power outages in Buenos Aires City.
But in metropolitan Buenos Aires and La Plata the number of people still without basice services and refusing to abandon their homes was estimated by provincial authorities at 600.000.
But in the midst of the disaster La Plata mayor Pablo Bruera saw himself involve in a scandal after tweeting that he had been assisting families affected by the storm when he was in fact outside of the country and only landed in Argentina on Wednesday morning.
“Visiting the refugee centres since last night,” he tweeted, along with a photograph in which he could be seen carrying a water bottle in an evacuation centre. In the photo, however, readers noted that there was sunlight coming in through the window.
Eventually it was discovered that the government official had not been there last night, since he only arrived in Argentina at 9:25 am this morning in a flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Due to an error in one of my tweets by my communications team, I must clarify that I only got here this morning,” he tweeted, and clarified that he had been helping the storm victims “at all times.”
“Of course I will take all necessary measures to make sure that we respect the veracity of the information,” he concluded.