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Peru Cold Snap Kills at Least 38 Andean Children
2004 07 20

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Extreme cold in Peru's high Andes has killed at least 38 children since the end of June as temperatures have plunged as low as minus 13 Fahrenheit (minus 25 C), government and U.N. officials said on Monday.

Foreign Minister Manuel Rodriguez Cuadros told Reuters he had information about 38 to 40 deaths while Martin Santiago, U.N. coordinator in Peru, said he had heard of up to 42 children dead in the worst-hit areas of southern Peru.

Even though it is the Southern Hemisphere's winter, the temperatures have been as much as five times lower than normal. The conditions have been caused by a cold front over the Pacific Ocean that has sparked intense snowfall when it meets an area of humidity, meteorologists said.

Rodriguez Cuadros said the United Nations would provide $750,000 in food, medicine, clothes and blankets for stricken areas, where snow is up to 2-1/2 feet (80 cm) deep.

Last week alone, 13 children died of pneumonia in the high mountain areas at an altitude of more than 13,123 feet, according to the Health Ministry.

Rodriguez Cuadros said 168,000 people in rural areas -- where conditions are brutally hard and subsistence agriculture is the only way of life -- had been "seriously affected" by the adverse conditions and 180,000 animals had been lost. More than another million animals could yet die, he added.

President Alejandro Toledo on Friday declared a 60-day state of emergency and handed over tons of food and medicines for the southern departments of Arequipa, Cuzco, Puno, Huancavelica and Moquegua. The government has allocated $15 million in aid for the affected areas.

"Between 38 and 40 children have died since the cold snap began about two weeks ago. It's a high figure but the action that we're taking now will reduce the possibility of more deaths," Rodriguez Cuadros said.

Three other departments -- Apurimac, Ayacucho and Tacna -- have also been severely affected and there have been some deaths because of the cold there, government officials said.

At least 23 people have died in Puno, near the border with Bolivia, the worst hit area, according to civil defense officials.

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