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  • Residents of the Huachipa populous district are helped by police and firemen rescue teams to cross over flash floods.

    Residents of the Huachipa populous district are helped by police and firemen rescue teams to cross over flash floods. | Photo: AFP

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The vast majority of people affected by extreme weather are poor, including many who built makeshift homes on floodplains.

The death toll caused by major floods in Peru was updated Saturday to 72, as Latin American countries mobilize to send support to the victims.

Deadly Peru Floods Displace Tens of Thousands

A further 572,000 have been affected by the torrential rains that have triggered floods across the country, according to Prime Minister Fernando Zavala, while the number of people displaced has reached 72,000, reported state news agency Andina.

Out of 1,800 Peruvian towns, 811 have been put under a state-of-emergency, as well as 108 provinces — including 24 within the province of Lima— and 13 departments.

The state-of-emergency, approved via executive order, will allow the Economy Ministry to allocate funds to the tragedy.

Peru's neighbors have also offered support in solidarity for the victims. Ecuador's government of Rafael Correa has promised “emergency help” and will send a military plane carrying 3.5 tons of food to Lima.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has also offered to send rescue teams.

The announcement came as a diplomatic spat divided Venezuela and Peru after Maduro accused Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of promoting “intervention” in Caracas during a speech at Princeton University on Feb. 25.

Peru's Kuczynski Says 'Latin America Is a Good Dog Sleeping'

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet have also expressed their support.

The warming of surface sea temperatures in the Pacific is likely to continue along Peru's northern coast at least through April, said Dimitri Gutierrez, a scientist with Peru's El Nino committee.

Coastal El Ninos in Peru tend to be preceded by the El Nino phenomenon in the Equatorial Central Pacific, which can trigger flooding and droughts around the world, added Gutierrez.

But this year's flooding has developed from local conditions.

The U.S. weather agency has put the chances of an El Nino developing in the second half of 2017 at 50-55 percent.

While precipitation in Peru has not exceeded the powerful El Nino of 1998, more rain is falling in shorter periods of time — rapidly filling streets and rivers, said Jorge Chavez, a general tasked with coordinating the government's response.

"We've never seen anything like this before," said Chavez. "From one moment to the next, sea temperatures rose and winds that keep precipitation from reaching land subsided."

Some scientists have said climate change will make El Ninos more frequent and intense.

In Lima, the capital, classes have been suspended and running water has been restricted after treatment systems were clogged — prompting a rush on bottled water that produced shortages at some supermarkets.

The vast majority of people affected by the extreme weather are poor, including many who built makeshift homes on floodplains that had been dry for 20 years, said Chavez.

"There's no electricity, no drinking water...no transit because streets are flooded," said Valentin Fernandez, mayor of the town Nuevo Chimbote.

Chavez said Peru must rethink its infrastructure to prepare for the potential "tropicalization" of the northern desert coast, which some climate models have forecast as temperatures rise.

"We need more and better bridges, we need highways and cities with drainage systems," said Chavez. "We can't count on nature being predictable."


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