Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Rains Bring Disaster in Northern Chile

The rains might have been welcome, and pleasurable, here in Santiago, but on the coast and in the north of Chile they've brought disaster.
            The Atacama desert is - normally - one of the driest places on earth, with an average annual rainfall of just 15 ml.  It is so dry that wet doesn't register as a potential state of being.  When we lived in Antofagasta, and we did get a few drops of rain, the interior walls of buildings would be peppered with rain-spots, because nobody noticed the cracks in the roof and the walls.  (Earthquake zones do that.)
            Up there in the north, even a few drops of rain can be a problem.  The dry earth forms a thick layer of dust, and without plants to break down the surface rock, water doesn't soak into the ground; it sits on the top of the ground and forms a muddy slurry, and when the drops turn into a rainfall, and when they fall on a slope, the slurry gives way under its own weight and you get landslides.
            In 1991, not too long before we moved there, a storm had caused a slide to come roaring through - unheralded, in the middle of the night - and taken out a whole group of houses, with the inhabitants inside.  
            This week the rain tracked unexpectedly north, and the heavy, southern-suitable rains are doing the same thing - gathering into a thick muddy slurry and pouring through towns. At least six people are dead across Chile, and clear skies down here in Santiago feel like a heck of a price to pay for all that.

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