Death toll in Chile floods rises to 18

SANTIAGO (AFP) - At least 18 people were killed in flash floods that hit a normally arid region of northern Chile last week, and about the same number remain missing, authorities said Monday.

The latest death toll from the devastating floods was released after six more bodies were found late Sunday and Monday, as rescue workers continued dealing with the aftermath of the torrential rains in Atacama region, home to the world's driest desert.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet had warned at the weekend that the situation in the area was "bleak" and that the death toll was likely to rise.

Those who lost their homes in the floods included several of the 33 miners who were trapped underground in the same region for more than two months in 2010, then rescued in an operation that captured worldwide attention.

Rescued miners Ariel Ticona, Esteban Rojas, Victor Segovia and Victor Zamora all lost their houses to the raging floodwaters in small mining towns in the Atacama interior.

Ticona, Rojas and Segovia had initially been reported missing, but the leader of the group that survived the mine collapse ordeal, Luis Urzua, said they had been located.

"Physically they're fine, but... they lost everything," he told AFP. "The region is going to take a long time to recover. It's like a tsunami hit us."

The downpour began late Tuesday and lashed the area for hours, turning riverbeds that had been dry for years into torrents.

The interior ministry declared a state of emergency Wednesday and sent in the military to maintain order and help with the cleanup effort.