The driest place on Earth is flooding. The Atacama Desert in Chile is located between two mountain ranges running north south along Chile’s coastline. The mountains force the clouds to drop their moisture on the sea side of the mountains, leaving little for the high desert.
The warm Pacific Ocean has brought rain to the Andes Mountains. This has melted snow and it has rushed down the slopes with a vengeance. Rivers have overflowed and devastated towns in the desert. This is the worst flood in the Atacama Desert in 80 years.
Mud has flowed through towns, burying them under knee high black muck that quickly hardens. The central highway of Chile has been blocked with mud and boulders.
There are at least 25 people confirmed dead but 125 people are missing. Rescue teams are using sniffer dogs to try to recover bodies buried in the mud. There is an extreme shortage of potable water.
President Michelle Bachelet visited the devastated areas and pledged to see that the people were helped to rebuild.
The Atacama Desert has droughts as long as 400 years. At lower levels, sea fog rolls in to condense but little measurable rain falls, an average of 0.01cm per year.
The devastation has been made worse by shanty settlements in ravine areas. While traditionally people did not live in such dangerous places, crowding has forced some to occupy them.
The high desert is known for its mineral riches. The world’s biggest copper mine is located there. Other minerals include gold and silver.