Ecuador Floods Take 16 Lives

February 29, 2008

Persistent rains and floods have killed at least 16 people since mid-January, leaving Ecuador in a state of disaster as concern over food shortages grows, President Rafael Correa said.

“This is not an emergency, this is a disaster,” Correa said on his weekly radio program. “We don’t have enough resources to help all the victims.”

Rains and swollen rivers have caused flooding in 13 of the country’s 24 provinces, destroying homes, crops and infrastructure and costing the economy $200 million, Correa said. At least 300,000 people have been affected, including 20,000 evacuated from their homes since the storms began in mid-January, Civil Defense officials said.

Agriculture Minister Walter Poveda warned of possible rice shortages, as rising waters have destroyed 271,800 acres of crops, including rice, coffee, corn, banana, cacao and sugar cane.

Correa declared a national emergency, deploying 2,200 soldiers to assist aid efforts in affected regions. He has offered to refinance debts held by devastated farmers and send seed and fertilizer to help them replant.

Argentina, Japan, Spain, the United States and Venezuela have sent aid, and more is expected to arrive from Chile, Israel, Korea and Peru, Security Minister Gustavo Larrea told the radio program Saturday.

The rains are predicted to ease in coming days, Ecuador’s Naval Oceanography Institute said.

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