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Argentina Rains Death Toll Up To 55, 20 Missing

April 4, 2013

By Paul Byrne

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LA PLATA, Argentina - Argentine police and soldiers searched house to house, in creeks and culverts and even in trees for bodies as more than 20 people remained missing Thursday from floods that killed at least 55 people in the province and city of Buenos Aires.

The torrential rains stopped and the waters mostly receded Thursday, but a public health and safety crisis gripped this provincial capital of nearly 1 million people, where thousands remained without power or safe drinking water.

Many people barely escaped after seeing everything they own disappear under water reeking with sewage and fuel that rose more than six feet (nearly two meters) high inside some homes.

The wreckage left behind was overwhelming: piles of broken furniture, overturned cars, ruined food and other debris.

The nearby Ensenada refinery, Argentina`s largest, remained offline after flooding caused a fire that took hours to quench in the middle of the rainstorm, the state-run YPF oil company said.

Buenos Aires provincial Gov. Daniel Scioli said Thursday that the death toll had risen to 49 people in La Plata, following six deaths in the national capital from flooding two days earlier.

A store and an elementary school were looted, but police and troops helped residents guard neighborhoods overnight to prevent more crimes, Scioli said. In addition to 750 provincial police officers, the national government sent in army, coast guard, police and social welfare workers, he said.

"The humanitarian question comes first. The material questions will be resolved in time. For this reason we`ve planned several lines of action so that the people have the support, the tranquility and the security that they`ll be able to recover what they`ve lost for this tragedy. I will apply the necessary resources," Scioli promised.

Scioli said four mobile hospitals have been activated and government workers were handing out water, canned food and clothing at dozens of shelters.

Provincial Health Minister Alejandro Collia said hepatitis shots were being given at 33 evacuation centers, and that the flooded neighborhoods would be sprayed to kill mosquitoes that spread dengue fever.

Scioli also thanked Pope Francis for sending a message of support. The governor said "this has to give us all the strength to accompany these families."

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Story image: Vilma Gorostiaga cries outside her home as she dries her family pictures on the ground in La Plata, in Argentina`s Buenos Aires province, Thursday, April 4, 2013. AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko

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