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As Rains Flood Central Chile, Jewish Community Offers Relief

June 7, 2002
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The Jewish community of Chile is pulling together to deal with the fallout of the worst rainstorm the country has seen in at least 80 years.

After several days of rain, a heavy storm on Monday dumped an entire year’s worth of rain on the central area of Chile, including the capital Santiago, in just one day.

At least 10 people died and between 50,000 and 70,000 have suffered damage to flooded homes.

More that 17,000 of Chile’s 20,000 Jews live in Santiago, but the local B’nai B’rith office said that Jews have not suffered severe damage from the storm.

"Some have their offices or factories flooded, but it is not a matter of survival," Ram Tapia, executive vice president of the local B’nai B’rith, told JTA by telephone.

Though not directly affected, the 30 local Jewish institutions are working together to assist people looking for shelter, food and warm clothes. Most of the aid recipients are non-Jews.

At the B’nai B’rith building, some 300 square yards are filled with clothes, milk, diapers and other supplies donated by members of the community.

On Wednesday, the office opened a bank account to pool money to buy construction materials to rebuild houses. Members of the community are already calling the bank asking how to make donations.

Also on Wednesday, two trucks carrying milk, clothes, diapers and other supplies left B’nai B’rith heading to Loprado County, an hour from Santiago.

In addition to donations, 35 Jewish volunteers spent an afternoon in Loprado helping some 2,000 people whose homes were flooded and who have been living in emergency shelters.

Over the weekend, a group of 2,000 Jewish volunteers, six trucks and 50 four-wheel vehicles will assist residents of the rural area of Lampa. Nearly three feet of water remain in the streets there, and farming areas have been completely destroyed.

Only four-wheels vehicles — provided to B’nai B’rith by an Adventure Tourism Club — are able to get into the area. Along with doctors, nurses and architects, recreational experts will join the mission to assist children.

According to Tapia, the local Jewish community has always been active when its services were needed.

"The new lesson is that we are answering together," Tapia said.

Some 400,000 Palestinians live in Chile, out of a total population of more than 15 million.

"In Chile, we went through a terrible campaign against Israel and the Jews," Tapia said. "But this has shown us how to defend ourselves. Now we learned we have to act" in cooperation with the general public.

Though the rain had stopped on Wednesday, more was forecast.

The possibility of better weather seemed equally ominous: The huge amount of snow that has been falling over the nearby Cordillera de los Andes is not yet solid. If the sun comes out it could melt the snow, filling rivers and prompting more floods.

Chile has invested $700 million in hydraulic infrastructure in the past decade, but the system is not adequate to handle this volume of water.

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