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Flooding leaves at least 52 dead

A man with a boy in his arms wades through a flooded street in La Plata, in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province, on Wednesday. (Associated Press)
A man with a boy in his arms wades through a flooded street in La Plata, in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province, on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Almost 16 inches of rain fell during a few hours

LA PLATA, Argentina – At least 52 people drowned in their homes and cars, were electrocuted or died in other accidents as flooding from days of torrential rains swamped Argentina’s low-lying capital and province of Buenos Aires.

At least 46 died Wednesday in and around the city of La Plata, Gov. Daniel Scioli said. Six deaths were reported a day earlier in the nation’s capital.

Many people climbed onto their roofs in the pouring rain after storm sewers backed up. Water surged up through drains in their kitchen and bathroom floors, and then poured in over their windowsills.

“It started to rain really hard in the evening, and began to flood,” said Augustina Garcia Orsi, a 25-year-old student. “I panicked. In two seconds, I was up to my knees in water. It came up through the drains – I couldn’t do anything.”

The rains also flooded the country’s largest refinery, causing a fire that took hours to put out. The La Plata refinery suspended operations as a result, and Argentina’s YPF oil company said an emergency team was evaluating how to get it restarted.

“Such intense rain in so little time has left many people trapped in their cars, in the streets, in some cases electrocuted. We are giving priority to rescuing people who have been stuck in trees or on the roofs of their homes,” Scioli said.

But many complained that they had to rescue themselves and their neighbors as cars flooded to their rooftops and homes filled with up to two meters (six feet) of water.

President Cristina Fernandez arrived by helicopter in Tolosa, a La Plata neighborhood where she grew up and where her mother was among those evacuated. She announced security measures to combat vandalism, help for identifying the dead and three days of national mourning for the victims.

The heaviest rain – almost 16 inches in just a few hours, beating historical records for the entire month of April – hit provincial La Plata overnight. A day earlier, the capital of Buenos Aires was hit hardest.

About four more inches of rain were expected before the bad weather passes today, the national weather service said.

At least 2,500 people were evacuated from their homes to about 20 centers in the La Plata area, which is about 37 miles southeast of Argentina’s capital.