CHILECITO, Argentina – Excitement surrounding the Dakar Rally in the northwestern Argentine province of Jujuy was transformed into grief and sadness when a mudslide left at least two dead and dozens injured and forced the evacuation of roughly 1,000 residents.
Tuesday morning’s mudslide mainly affected Volcan, a town some 1,530 kilometers (950 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires, and was the result of torrential rains in recent days.
The route that the Dakar competitors were using that day to reach Tuesday’s overnight bivouac in Salta, where the ninth stage was to have begun on Wednesday, was completely cut off by water and mud.
The organization decided not only to cancel Wednesday’s stage but also offered its health facilities and resources to reinforce the work of local emergency management teams.
Besides causing two deaths, the mudslide also knocked out telephone service in the region and caused significant material damage.
“It’s a shame that the stage can’t be held, but at the end of the day this is only sport. The tragedy is what’s being experienced by the affected population, who have lost their homes and their belongings,” Spaniard Nani Roma, a member of the Toyota racing team who is currently in fourth place in the cars category, said Wednesday.
The mudslide has been described as the worst in the region in 39 years, with provincial Security Minister Ekel Meyer saying that he had never before seen a wall of mud 300 meters (980 feet) long and 10 meters high.
It occurred before the arrival in the area of the Dakar competitors, none of whom were injured.
The rally will resume on Thursday with the 10th of 12 stages, when the competitors in five categories – bikes, quads, cars, trucks and UTVs – will cover a route in northwestern Argentina from the town of Chilecito to the city of San Juan.