(MissionNewswire) Heavy rains the last week of March turned to intense flooding that caused power outages and blocked roads in the northern desert regions of Chile. The Chilean government has reported that 17 people have been killed and 20 are missing. Communities have been attempting to dig out homes and cars and reopen roads. The military has been deployed and 700 tons in government aid including food, mattresses and medicine has been sent to the area.
Salesian missionaries living and working in the region are responding to the situation with aid for the flood victims, many who have lost everything. The missionaries operate the Salesian Cristo Redentor Industrial School located in Copiapó, the capital city of the Atacama Region, the area most affected by the flooding. Most of the access roads in the city are impassable due to mud resulting from the torrential rains. Because communications are unstable and intermittent, the Salesian community has not been able to fully assess the flood damage or how many have been affected.
At this time, it is known that 27 Salesian students and their families have lost everything, including their homes, 18 have suffered partial loss due to water and mud damage and 10 faculty and staff members have lost their homes or suffered intense damage.
“Anyone who knew Copiapó would find no trace today of anything recognizable,” says Father Néstor Muñoz, rector of the Salesian Industrial School. “The streets have completely disappeared. The main arteries of the city no longer exist and there are rivers of mud that is already starting to rot due to the stagnation and heat.”
Fr Muñoz also noted that according to local reports, the towns further inland such as Paipote, Tierra Amarilla, Los Loros, San Antonio, Diego de Almagro and Chañaral have suffered the most. In the towns of Diego de Almagro and Chañaral it is estimated that 70 percent of the infrastructure has been destroyed.
One of the greatest concerns for Salesian missionaries is the lack of clean, safe water. The mud in the streets is contaminated by water from the sewers and has become a serious health risk for communicable diseases. As a result, it is believed that very soon the city center will have to be evacuated.
Salesian missionaries are providing shelter at the Salesian school for families in need as well as clothing and food aid. Students from the pastoral group at the school are doing what they can to assist those in need with close to 100 students helping the relief operations by collecting and distributing aid to members of the affected communities. Salesian teachers are also working to help staff members who have suffered loss.
“Although neither the Salesians nor the school have suffered damage, there is concern and at times, a sense of being overwhelmed by the enormous gravity of the situation,” adds Fr Muñoz. “The generosity of students and parents who escaped the full force of the flood and who support and help from a distance serves to lift the spirits and is a source of hope.”
According to the World Bank, although the economy in Chile is one of the more stable and prosperous in Latin America, a little more than five percent of the population live on just two dollars a day. The country suffers from high economic inequality which is particularly evident in access to educational opportunities.
Salesians working in Chile focus their efforts on providing education and social services to poor, at-risk youth. At Salesian schools, universities and youth centers throughout the country, youth can access an education as well as the skills and resources necessary to break the cycle of poverty. As a result of the vocational and technical education provided by Salesian programs, Chilean youth are more likely to find stable employment and improve their standard of living.