Peru cold snap kills 22, coldest weather in decade
The killer cold snap has sent temperatures in the department of Puno, high in Peru's Andes, plummeting to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 Celsius), officials said in recent days -- rare temperatures even for the Southern Hemisphere winter.
"The people who died could not bear the intense cold. Most are children and old people," a spokesman for the civil defense department told Reuters on Monday. Others normally used to bitter temperatures at altitudes of more than 13,000 feet (4,000 metres) have been treated for respiratory problems.
Civil defense officials said some 44,000 people had been affected and nearly 16,000 homes had been damaged.
The worst affected areas were also top tourist destinations -- Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca near Bolivia, and Cusco, the gateway to the fabled Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.
Some parts of those departments were completely cut off, officials said.
President Alejandro Toledo flew to Puno at the weekend to oversee aid efforts. The government has declared southern Peru in a state of emergency and was helicoptering in 135 tonnes of aid including blankets, food, tents and clothing.
Snow more than 3 feet (1 metre) deep covered pasture land and officials said as many as 60,000 alpacas, 12,000 llamas and 8,000 cattle had died. Most residents in southern Peru raise animals to live.
Weather experts say the unusual cold is a clear indication of an impending El Nino. Weather conditions across Peru have been unusual this year, with rain in Lima -- a rare occurrence since Lima is located on Peru's desert Pacific coastal strip.
U.S. officials said last week a new, but weak, El Nino had officially arrived in the United States. The last El Nino -- an abnormal warming of waters in the eastern Pacific that occurs every four to five years and distorts wind and rainfall patterns -- unleashed global floods and drought in 1997-98.
El Nino caused some $3.5 billion damage in Peru last time round. Peru is watching its arrival carefully because of the potential impact on its key fishing industry. Peru is the world's biggest producer of fishmeal, used in cattle feed.
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