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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 03:56 GMT
Storm devastates Bolivian capital
People clean up the streets in La Paz (photo by Pablo Anieli)
Vehicles were buried in drifts of hail stones
At least 27 people are reported to have died after a massive hail storm struck the Bolivian capital, La Paz.

Fire Department chief Rolando Buscara said another 120 had been injured. Hospital officials expect casualties to rise.

This was the heaviest and most intense fall of rain and hail the city has ever seen

Spokesman for La Paz mayor
The storm, the worst in decades, sent torrents of water raging through the streets, destroying more than 100 cars and ripping up road surfaces and brick walls.

An unknown number of people are feared trapped by mud and water in a subway beneath La Paz's main street, El Prado, after the Choqueapu river burst its banks.

Streets impassable

A large government building near the centre of the city is also in danger of collapse, reports say.

A spokesman for the mayor of La Paz said the hail storm, which struck early on Tuesday evening, was the heaviest "the city has ever seen".

According to the BBC's Andrew Enever in La Paz the city's steep hills funnelled water down streets, making them impassable within minutes and causing huge flood damage.

In one street vehicles were covered in hail stones to a depth of 1.5 metres (five feet) and a nearby underground car park was filled to the ceiling with ice and debris.

Rescue efforts

Some people have been brought out of the El Prado subway alive.

Debris caused by strorm damage (photo by Pablo Anieli)
Whole houses were destroyed

But Dr Carlos Tamaya, a Red Cross official at the scene, said attempts to rescue those trapped were being hampered by mud slides and fast moving water.

He said a subway attendant had been killed trying to shut the subway doors to keep the water at bay.

Last year heavy rains caused mudslides and significant casualties in La Paz and there are fears that the same might occur after these storms - local people are being advised to stay in their homes.

See also:

24 Jan 01 | Americas
Bolivia declares natural disaster
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bolivia
14 Feb 02 | Americas
Timeline: Bolivia
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