Rescuers searched yesterday for some 20 people still missing in the Argentine city of La Plata after 57 were killed in a violent storm and heavy flooding.
Most of the victims were found on Wednesday after a second day of record rainfall in Buenos Aires and nearby La Plata, where flooding submerged cars and sent people scrambling to rooftops for safety.
At least 49 people died in La Plata, a bustling university city of under 1mn about 60km south of the capital, authorities said, raising the toll by one yesterday.
Six people died in Buenos Aires proper and two others in the city’s suburbs.
“We are carrying out the final count because there are still about 20 people who have not been found,” said Argentine deputy security minister Sergio Berni.
He said that authorities had received no new calls for rescue in the past hours.
Of those killed in La Plata, provincial governor Daniel Scioli said that 34 have been identified.
Residents of the most heavily flooded neighborhoods trickled back home after a staggering 40cm of rain fell on La Plata during a two-hour period late on Tuesday into Wednesday, knocking out phone and power lines and leaving about half the city in the dark.
Flood waters reached 2m in some places, turning city roadways into raging rivers.
“I heard piercing screams, I saw bodies float by. Nobody came to help, not a firefighter, or a police officer, or a soldier,” an outraged La Plata resident told local TV news, angry at the lack of official aid.
President Cristina Kirchner, who spent much of her childhood in La Plata and surveyed the devastation by helicopter on Wednesday, decreed three days of national mourning.
“Mum has lost her power and gas but she does not want to leave her home because the water is close to the door, and she is afraid it might start raining again,” Kirchner told reporters.
Her office announced three days of national mourning for the victims.
Pope Francis voiced his dismay in a letter to Buenos Aires archbishop Mauro Poli, saying that he was “deeply saddened” by the disaster and offering prayers for the dead.
In Buenos Aires, more than 15cm of rain – an April record – fell between late Monday and early Tuesday, the weather service said.
“This has never before happened in La Plata,” said Argentine Security Minister Sergio Berni.
In nearby Tolosa, meanwhile, 50 cars and other vehicles were stuck after high water encircled part of the town, cutting off roads and preventing authorities from rescuing stranded motorists and passengers.
“We have no batteries, no power,” lamented Vanessa Silletti as she spoke by phone to local radio, stranded in her vehicle with a 10-month-old infant. “I can nurse my baby, but that’s about it. We are stuck here, powerless, unable to move.”
Authorities said around 2,500 people were still unable to return home as they wait for flood waters to subside, and have taken refuge in emergency shelters.
Maximiliano Miceli, 34, told AFP he was stunned by the flooding in La Plata, where he has never seen heavy rain, nor such devastation.
“This is the first time that this has ever happened,” he said, as he wiped away muddy water from inside his ruined car.
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