|Dawn light in the Valley of the Moon near San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile [Getty]|
Hundreds of people have been forced from their homes after four days of heavy rain brought flooding to Chile’s Atacama Desert. Swollen rivers have broken their banks and there have been two landslides in less than a week.
Settlements in what is the world’s driest desert remain on alert as floodwaters cascade down the high plateau and into the Pacific Ocean. Around 800 residents have been forced from their homes.
Local officials have declared this is the worst “inverno boliviano” in over a decade. The term “inverno boliviano” refers to a short period between Chile’s wet and dry seasons, that typically brings heavy rainfall, strong winds and flash flooding to the region.
This season has been particularly bad with over 40mm of rain falling in the last few days. At least 12 houses have been destroyed with another 8 badly damaged.
This is an area with an average rainfall of barely 1mm per year. In fact some weather stations in the Atacama have never recorded any rainfall at all. Evidence even suggests that the Atacama as a whole may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971.
Toconao was hardest hit by the torrential rains, but other areas have also been badly affected including San Pedro, Rio Bueno and Talabre. Many roads and highways have been cut off and the threat of further landslides remains a distinct possibility.
Even the road that leads to the Termas de Puritama has been forced to shut. This is on route to the Tatio Geysers, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Chile.