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Thousands flee flooding in Bolivia, more likely

The most devastating floods to hit Bolivia in 25 years have cut off a northeastern city, and local officials said on Thursday that more rain forecast for the coming days could put residents at greater risk.
Bolivia Floods
Flooding swamps this area on the outskirts of Trinidad, Bolivia, on Thursday. Juan Karita / AP
/ Source: Reuters

The most devastating floods to hit Bolivia in 25 years have cut off a northeastern city, and local officials said on Thursday that more rain forecast for the coming days could put residents at greater risk.

Aid is starting to arrive after nearly three months of heavy rains, which have killed at least 35 people, destroyed thousands of homes, and mangled crops and roads throughout much of the South American nation.

Most of the sparsely populated Beni region, which is roughly the size of the United Kingdom, is under water, and its capital, Trinidad, is surrounded by water.

Local authorities told reporters they fear that if the walls protecting the city collapse, tragedy would ensue.

"If this happens, we are going to be in dire straits," Beni's governor, Ernesto Suarez, was quoted as saying by local daily La Prensa. Suarez said some 6,000 people have been evacuated from Trinidad's outskirts and that the worst flooding is yet to come.

"They are saying the hardest blow will come after the 28th (of February). If this happens, Trinidad will be in serious trouble," he was quoted as saying.

Local TV networks broadcast dramatic images of people being evacuated in run-down dinghies in Beni, carrying whatever household belongings they could rescue from their homes.

The national weather service forecasts more rain throughout the country over the next few days.

The government says some 350,000 Bolivians are suffering the hardships of extreme weather triggered by El Nino, an oscillation of marine-atmospheric systems characterized by warm surface waters in the eastern Pacific, a phenomenon that may be aggravated by global warming.

Flooding has also affected the eastern province of Santa Cruz, the country's agricultural heartland.

The region's farming chamber said nearly 500,000 acres of crops -- including 383,000 acres of soy, the country's main agricultural export -- have been destroyed by flooding.

Aid from countries including the United States, Italy, Venezuela, Peru and Argentina, is pouring in. But the destruction to the roads and the country's shortage of aircraft mean it cannot reach many of the affected areas.