Argentine government tries to ease tensions after flooding
Homes are flooded in Lujan, Argentina on Aug. 11, 2015. Overflowing rivers and streets turned into waterways are prompting the evacuation of large numbers of people in the province of Buenos Aires after several days of heavy rain. (AP / Natacha Pisarenko)
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Argentina's government tried to ease public anger Wednesday over flooding that forced an estimated 11,000 people to flee their homes in Buenos Aires province.
The inadequacy of flood prevention measures in Argentina's largest province that was evident after torrential weekend rainstorms has become a hot issue ahead of the Oct. 25 presidential election.
Economy Minister Axel Kicillof announced measures Wednesday to help retirees and low-income families affected by rivers spilling over their banks. Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez, who is running for governor of Buenos Aires province, visited the areas hit by flooding that killed at least three people.
The current governor, Daniel Scioli, who is a presidential candidate, was forced to return to Argentina after he was criticized for travelling to Italy during the emergency. His office said that Scioli's trip involved medical matters for a prosthetic arm and that he would be back home Thursday.
Scioli, a former power boat champion who lost his right arm in a 1989 crash, is the chosen successor of President Cristina Fernandez and received the most votes in Sunday's open primaries. Several polling places were relocated during the voting because of flooding.
The storms in northern Buenos Aires province dropped a record total of 35 centimetres of rain in some areas, according to the province's agency for emergencies.
Some residents of Buenos Aires province blamed poor infrastructure for the destructive flooding. In 2013, at least 80 people died in the provincial capital of La Plata as flooding from days of heavy rains swamped Argentina's low-lying capital and the province of Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri is Scioli's main challenger in the presidential election. On Wednesday, Macri said Scioli's lack of management and the urgent need for public works in the province were the main causes for the latest disaster.
The national government has acknowledged the need for more drainage works in the area. But the provincial government says the drainage works demanded by residents are being carried out and already helped reduce the damage from the latest flooding.
Metereologist Eduardo Sierra told local Radio Del Plata that a stronger than expected EL Nino weather pattern is causing the heavy rains.
The Arrecifes River grew to nearly 9 metres, nearly twice its usual level. Although the Arrecifes, Lujan and Areco rivers are slowly lowering, authorities were concerned about the possibility of more rains and wind.
One of the worst-hit cities is Lujan, about 75 kilometres west of Argentina's capital. Water reached the inside of the basilica where thousands of Roman Catholic pilgrims visit each year to give thanks to the Virgin of Lujan, the country's patron saint.
Relief organizations are collecting water, mattresses and food for evacuees being housed at stadiums owned by Argentina's top soccer clubs and at the Plaza de Mayo in the capital.
The Telam state news agency said the president is meeting regularly with her Cabinet and will "redouble efforts" to help the people affected by the floods.