Photo: The overflowing Mapocho River in Santiago, where its seven million residents face drinking water problems. (AFP: Vladimir Rodas)
Heavy rains battering central Chile have now left an estimated 4 million people without drinking water, as landslides wreaked havoc and rivers breached their banks, leaving at least one person dead and closing the world’s largest underground copper mine.
A woman was killed by a landslide in the San Jose de Maipo valley, a mountainous region just south-east of capital, Santiago, while a special police force is searching for another four people in the same area, said Ricardo Toro, the head of Chile’s Onemi emergency office.
In Santiago, the national emergency response agency declared a red alert for the city of more than seven million people due to dirty water.
Television images showed streets in the upscale neighbourhood of Providencia overrun by flood waters after the Mapocho River breached its banks.
Heavy rains in the Andean foothills since Friday triggered landslides into the Maipo and Mapocho rivers.
The Intendant of Santiago’s Metropolitan region, Claudio Orrego, said late Saturday the cuts affect 4 million people, 1 million more than announced hours earlier.
Tap water production was down to 35 per cent of normal levels, said Eugenio Rodriguez, corporate manager of the Aguas Andinas water company.
Municipal authorities activated an emergency plan that includes accessing 45 backup water sources and mobilising more than 60 water trucks.
Thousands on Saturday flocked to stores to stock up on bottled water, and supermarket shelves were quickly left bare.
Aguas Andinas said that “it is not possible yet to estimate the time that service will be restored”.
The Office of National Emergencies called on residents to ration water, and collect and save water if possible.
Codelco, the world’s top copper producer, said the rains forced the Chilean state-owned miner to suspend production at its century-old underground El Teniente mine, likely leading to the loss of 5,000 tonnes of copper.
The rains flooded parts of the massive mine, located in the foothills of the Andes 150 kilometers south of Santiago, forcing its closure to let engineers and crews clean up landslides and divert streams that have caused damage to machinery, Codelco said.
Global miner Anglo American suspended mining activities at its flagship Los Bronces copper mine and the smaller El Soldado deposit for security reasons.