Chile's Bachelet visits flood-hit north after 25 killed

A man wades through a flooded street in Copiapo, after heavy rainfall caused the overflowing of the Copiapo river and the flooding of parts of the city in northern Chile, on March 30, 2015 (AFP Photo/Patricio Miranda)

Santiago (AFP) - Chile's President Michelle Bachelet visited the flood-hit north of the country where at least 25 people died and 125 others are still missing, vowing to "rebuild" the stricken region.

Flash floods across the Atacama area, home to the world's driest desert, submerged entire towns and left thousands of people homeless.

"We stand with you, as we have from the beginning, and we will rebuild," Bachelet said Saturday as she toured the region.

"It pains me to see my country in such a state... we will find a solution."

Bachelet had canceled a trip to a regional summit to cope with the crisis in Atacama, where entire buildings were reduced to rubble and towns were caked in mud after devastating landslides.

The death toll could increase further with 125 still missing, officials said. The number of missing was recently increased by 24 people following a new count by emergency officials.

In addition, mudslides triggered by melting Andean snow wiped out roads and flattened buildings.

According to a tally released Friday by the National Emergency Office, about 2,700 victims of the flooding are being housed in emergency accommodation and as many as 30,000 people have been affected.

Aid workers have helped to restore essential services and provide hundreds of tons of food, hygiene and health products.

The government also sent 89,000 doses of flu vaccine, 27,000 against tetanus and 7,600 against hepatitis A.

Health officials have warned there is a high risk of outbreaks of gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases because of the mud and shortages of drinking water.

Chile is a major metals producer and officials said they would test the soil in flood-hit areas for possible mine contamination.

Bachelet said government officials were looking into the risk of disease outbreaks and were committed to providing support to victims.

On her trip Bachelet visited a nearby town where the government and other organizations were building houses for flood victims.

"We have come to make sure that (recovery efforts) are working, that you have enough drugs, that you have enough vaccines," she said.

The downpour which began on March 24 lashed the area for hours, turning riverbeds that had been dry for years into torrents.

The government declared a state of emergency in the area and sent in troops.

- Under pressure -

The president's tour comes as she faces low approval levels -- around 31 percent -- after accusations her son was involved in influence peddling.

A number of other money-and-politics scandals have raised doubts from economic groups over the country that has a reputation as one of the least corrupt in Latin America.

When asked about the allegations on her tour, Bachelet said people should not jump to conclusions and allow prosecutors to do their work.

"Let the institutions work," Bachelet said.

"I feel that we are falling into an attitude in the country of distrust of everything, imagining that everything is bad when the truth is it isn't like that."