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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 10:37 GMT
El Nino floods hit Peru
A shepherd steers her sheep around a flooded field in south-eastern Peru
The floods have wrought havoc in south-eastern Peru

The weather phenomenon El Nino is back and has been hitting Peru hard in recent days.

President Alejandro Toledo
Toledo is aiming to examine the damage
The event - which is caused by the periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America - is being blamed for rains and flooding that have killed 18 and left thousands homeless in the south-east of the country.

Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo was due to fly over some of the affected areas at the weekend.

More than 6,000 homes have been destroyed, along with huge swathes of cropland in the regions of Cusco, Madre de Dios and Puno.

It is estimated that 59,000 people have been affected by this year's El Nino.

They have been battered by torrential rain in recent days, as the phenomenon makes its presence felt.

A state of emergency has been declared in two regions.

Caught out

Humanitarian aid, including small donations from the likes of Japan and Spain, has been sent to the affected areas.

Satellite picture of the Pacific
Satellites spot changes in sea temperatures

But the damage is already estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.

Perhaps more worrying still, at least 600 cases of malaria have been reported in the Cusco region, as the hot weather in between heavy rains has created ideal conditions for the mosquitoes that carry the parasite.

Last time El Nino struck, in 1997 and 1998, it killed some 200 people in Peru alone and destroyed property worth $3.5bn.

This year's is expected to be far weaker.

But questions are being asked as to how the rains caught everyone by surprise when the government has been preparing for an impending El Nino for months.

See also:

30 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
25 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
09 Jan 00 | Science/Nature
24 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
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