BUENOS AIRES – A blistering heat wave, power outages and a fuel shortage added up Tuesday to a second day of hellish conditions in Greater Buenos Aires, home to about a quarter of Argentina’s 40 million people.
Amid a plethora of recommendations by the authorities on how to deal with the soaring temperatures, which on Tuesday were expected to reach 36 C (97 F), people took refuge in any shade they could find to get out of the blazing heat of the Argentine summer.
The National Meteorological Service renewed this Tuesday a high alert for the Argentine capital and its surrounding areas due to the high temperatures, which created scenes the total opposite of those seen these days in snowbound Europe and the United States.
“The city of Buenos Aires (with its 2.8 million inhabitants) has a summer average of 90 deaths per day but, for example, during the heat wave at the beginning of 2001 it went up to 250 deaths in a single day,” the weather service warned on its Web site.
“Given that high temperatures will continue throughout the week, we ask the population to avoid as much as possible exposing themselves to sun rays and to drink a lot of water,” Argentine Health Minister Juan Manzur said, urging people to seek medical attention if they develop such symptoms as high fever, drowsiness, fainting or a racing pulse.
Added to the suffocating heat, the climatic phenomenon La Niña has spread drought across vast areas of the Buenos Aires and La Pampa provinces, the richest agricultural region of a country that is one of the world’s top grain exporters.
Sources in the farming sector believe that the lack of rain could continue until March, with the consequent loss of soybean and corn crops.
The heat wave also set a “historic record” in consumption of electricity, according to the public utilities involved, to the point that in numerous Buenos Aires neighborhoods and urban districts there were power outages in the last few days that sparked bitter protests.
The Association for the Defense of User and Consumer Rights warned that 40 percent of the customers of Edenor, Edesur and Edelap, the distributors of electric energy in Greater Buenos Aires, suffered blackouts or diminished power.
But the utilities said there were only a few isolated cases of power outages in an area of some 600 square kilometers (230 square miles).
Dozens of traffic lights in the capital were not working, so the city government asked drivers and pedestrians to use “extreme caution” in proceeding through the streets, which in many cases were blocked by the now-customary marches protesting any number of offenses and inconveniences.
The sun blazed like molten metal on downtown Buenos Aires, where the starting point was being prepared for the Dakar rally scheduled for Saturday, while pickets of the poor and unemployed blocked one of the expressways into the city.
Automobile traffic also appeared threatened by the fuel shortage, reflected in long lines of cars at the gasoline pumps.
“There’s no gas anywhere. If I don’t fill up now I can’t work today,” a taxi driver lamented on a local radio station, saying that he was out “hunting” for gasoline.
The fuel shortage is due to the increased demand of consumers traveling to other parts of the country to spend the year-end holidays and summer vacations, as well as the ordinary delays in distribution due to the Christmas festivities. EFE