The rapid and unusual warming of the waters off northern Peru has unleashed the deadliest rainfall the South American country has seen in decades.
Significant amounts of rain have fallen over relatively short periods of time in some parts of the Andean country in the latest iteration of a local El Niño, sending flash floods raging through city streets and across dry floodplains where people had built makeshift homes.
The downpours have overwhelmed riverbanks and caused mudslides.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Jorge Chavez, a general in charge of organizing the government’s response, according to Reuters.
“From one moment to the next, sea temperatures rose and winds that keep precipitation from reaching land subsided,” Chavez said.
About half the country has been placed under a state of emergency to allow aid to get to the hardest-hit areas first, and in some areas on Peru’s northern coast, small villages have been completely isolated by the deluge.
Intense rains and mudslides over the last week have wrought havoc around country and caught residents in Lima, a desert city of 10 million where it almost never rains, by surprise.
In recent days, residents of Lima have become stranded as streets are suddenly flooded by rainwater. People on the outskirts of the city have awoken to find their homes flooded.
Periodic warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean causes increased evaporation and saddles clouds with immense loads of water, which then fall on coastal areas, causing rivers to overflow and avalanches from steep hillsides. A lack of wind keeps the clouds in place and prolongs the rain. Intense downpours have sent torrents of water and mud whipping through city streets, sweeping away homes, furniture, and sometimes people.
Since January, when the rainy season typically reaches its height, at least 75 people have been killed and about 100,000 have lost everything. Another 630,000 people have suffered damages. The country is braced for another month of floods before the rainy season winds down.
Below, a woman swept away by muddy flood waters emerges from a pool of debris, which livestock have also become stuck in.