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In Argentine City, Jews and Others Flee Homes As Floodwaters Approach

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Sandra Upsrung can’t stop the tears.

“I lost everything. Everything,” she says, drawing out the words as she cries into the telephone.

Upsrung is one of an estimated 150 Jews in the city of Santa Fe, some 300 miles north of Buenos Aires, who lost their homes when the Salado River overflowed after days of heavy rains.

According to official numbers from the army, which is in charge of rescue operations, 45,000 people have been evacuated and four people have died in Santa Fe.

Evacuated families are being hosted in 32 different centers, where they need clothing, antibiotics and food.

The situation is a “real catastrophe,” Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde said.

The flooding isn’t only in the outlying areas: On Tuesday night the water reached downtown, only 10 blocks from the seat of government.

The 150 Jews whose homes were flooded “lost their houses and belongings. The water covered them completely, and they didn’t even have time to take out anything,” said Monica Katz, who is in charge of social assistance for Santa Fe’s Jewish community.

Most of the Jews affected are being fed and sheltered temporarily at a local gymnasium.

“We’re only just organizing ourselves to provide the help needed,” said Roberto Schenquer, president of the local Jewish community.

Some 900 Jewish families are active in Jewish institutions in the city, Schenquer told JTA.

“No institution has been damaged, but many Jews’ houses have been completely” flooded, he said.

Most of these families belong to an impoverished former middle class. They existed with the help of a Jewish welfare system that has become quite active throughout the country since Argentina’s economy collapsed in December 2001, Schenquer said.

“Many of these people were just recovering from a huge loss” economically, Katz said. “Now they’re experiencing a new loss. They couldn’t even save a chair or a mattress. It’s chaotic.”

Upsrung is a beneficiary of the Jewish community’s social programs. She and her partner, German Gergson, receive food tickets, a food bag and money for rent. Gergson has temporary work as a driver.

Only Upsrung’s youngest daughter — Gala, 3 — was with the couple when the flood surprised them. They had to be rescued from the roof in a boat.

The main communal institutions in Buenos Aires have called to inquire about the community, Schnequer said.

Daniel Pomerantz, executive director of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, told JTA that many synagogues and community centers met on Wednesday morning to create a special committee to organize help for Santa Fe residents, including non-Jews.

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