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Storm seen slowing Argentina soybean harvest

04/03/2013 @ 12:06pm

A heavy rain storm that struck Argentina's capital and surrounding cities has claimed more than two dozen lives and caused a major fire at the country's largest oil refinery.

The freak storm that dumped more than seven inches of rain in some areas early Tuesday morning killed about 25 people in the city of La Plata and caused at least half a dozen fatalities in Buenos Aires. Many neighborhoods in both cities were still flooded and without electricity Wednesday morning.

Buenos Aires Province governor Daniel Scioli on Wednesday closed government offices and public schools in the provincial capital La Plata. He also asked people not to travel to La Plata to avoid hindering rescue efforts.

"Many people were fatally trapped in cars, on the streets or in some cases electrocuted. Right now we are giving priority to humanitarian needs...rescuing people stuck in a tree, the roof of their home or in a desperate situation," he said in a televised press conference.

La Plata and the surrounding municipalities are home to about 1.7 million residents.

Sergio Berni, the No. 2 official in the federal Security Ministry, said that personnel from the Army, Coast Guard, and other security forces have been sent to evacuate stranded La Plata residents.

"Half of La Plata is flooded," said Mr. Berni, who said about 16 inches of rain fell in a two hour period.

Television channel TN on Wednesday reported at least 35 deaths in La Plata and broadcast aerial footage showing vast swaths of the city submerged by flood waters. State news agency Telam said 2,200 people have been evacuated so far.

The storm would have caused even more chaos had it not been for two back-to-back public holidays--Easter and Veterans Day--that meant federal and provincial government offices and many businesses were closed from March 28 through Tuesday.

The capital of Buenos Aires, located about 35 miles to the northwest of La Plata and home to around 2.9 million residents, was also struggling to recover from the storm.

In low areas of the city the depth of the flood waters exceeded one meter, while some streets and avenues in middle class districts were turned into raging rivers that swept away cars and people.

Federal Planning Minister Julio de Vido said that almost 300,000 people in the greater Buenos Aires urban area are still without electricity, down from about 1 million Tuesday morning.

Argentina's state-controlled oil company YPF SA (YPF, YPFD.BA) suspended operations at its La Plata refinery after a power outage Tuesday triggered a fire in a coking unit.

YPF said Wednesday that its employees and fire crews from nearby cities have contained the blaze and that there is no risk it could spread to other parts of the refinery.

"Within the coming hours, YPF will put in place a special operating plan to restart operations at its industrial complex," YPF said in a statement.

A company spokesman said it's too early to quantify the damage and lost output.

The fire at La Plata refinery is hardly welcome news for Argentina, which is already a major fuel importer. The refinery supplies almost 30% of the country's domestically produced fuel.

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