Climate Change Blamed for Deadly Landslides in Chile

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  • Rains in mountains triggered landslides amid high temperatures
  • Aguas Andinas to gradually restore drinking water today

A man shovels mud from a home brought by the overflow of the Estero San Jose River in San Alfonso, Chile, on Feb. 26, 2017.

Photographer: Esteban Felix/AP Photo

Landslides close to the Chilean capital Santiago killed three people over the weekend, while cutting off water supplies to millions of homes, the National Emergency Office said.

Another 373 people remain cut off after the rains swept away roads and bridges, said Ricardo Toro, director of Chile’s National Emergency Office.

Rains in the Andes mountains brought mud, rocks and trees cascading down the Maipo river, overwhelming treatment plants managed by the water utility Aguas Andinas SA. It was the third such incident in four years as temperatures rise, causing the water to fall as rain and not snow in the mountains.

“Chile has to understand that this could repeat itself,” Toro said. “We need the infrastructure to face these situations that have become a new reality. Global warming is a reality.”

The landslides are just the latest natural disaster to hit the Latin American nation this year and that may be linked to climate change. Wild fires raged across the central south of the country for weeks in January and February, fanned by record high temperatures and a prolonged drought.

Santiago’s regional governor Claudio Orrego also said Monday that due to climate change the city is likely to see more heavy rains in the mountains and that “very significant investments” are needed to face the problem. The local government has ordered Aguas Andinas to build a reservoir to guarantee water supplies when the treatment plants can’t operate, he said.

Aguas Andinas said it would gradually restore supplies throughout the day after about six million people were cut off Sunday. Fifty percent of water services have been restored, head of corporate affairs Eugenio Rodriguez said in a statement on the company’s website. Shares in the company gained 0.8 percent to 344.89 pesos as of 11:08 a.m. today.

The landslides didn’t reduce output at any of Chile’s copper mines, including Los Bronces, managed by Anglo America Plc, and Andina, managed by state-owned Codelco, both of which are in the mountains close to Santiago.

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