Cold snap causes deaths in South America

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Reporter Brian Byrnes reports from Buenos Aires on a cold snap that's spread across many countries in South America. Dozens of people have died in Chile, Paraguay and Argentina.

MARCO WERMAN: The weather is causing other problems these days in South America. Dozens of people have died because of a cold snap in Chile, Paraguay and Argentina. Brazil and Uruguay have also been experiencing the falling temperatures. Reporter Brian Byrnes is in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Now you're used to this cold further south cause this is the southern hemisphere and its winter and the further south you go, the colder it gets. But just how bad has this cold snap been, Brian, particularly in the north?

BRIAN BYRNES: Yes, Marco, well as you said, temperatures here in Buenos Aires and throughout southern Argentina, normally this time of year are in the 30s or 40s degree Fahrenheit, but what we've been experiencing here in the last week or so is temperatures that are down in the single digits and obviously much of Argentina, and even much of the southern cone of South America is just not equipped to really deal with that. And even in the last few days we've seen colder temperatures in northern Argentina than we have seen in southern Argentina. The Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile, basic temperatures well below freezing much of the year. But when you start hitting those temperatures in the northern part of Argentina, up into Bolivia and Paraguay, even Brazil, is when you start to have some of the problems that we've had over the past week or so. There's been about approximately 150 deaths attributed to this cold weather over the past week throughout the entire southern cone of South America.

WERMAN: And those deaths, is that attributed to the cold or can poverty possibly be an element in that as well?

BYRNES: Poverty certainly plays an element into that. Many of these deaths are simply because of exposure, hypothermia. But we're also seeing a lot of the deaths that come from carbon monoxide poisoning. In many of these poor areas obviously people are using these fuel-burning stoves and perhaps they're malfunctioning, not working correctly, and people are dying from this carbon monoxide poisoning. That's something that we really see here in Argentina every winter to be quite honest, but we seem to have been seeing more of them over the past week or so since these frigid temperatures have really taken hold.

WERMAN: Now Brian, three years ago it snowed in Buenos Aires for the first time in nearly ninety years. Has it snowed again this time?

BYRNES: Well, the snow hasn't arrived here to the capital of Buenos Aires this year, but it did snow in the province of Buenos Aires just south of here, about 50 miles south of here, last week and that's obviously a very rare occurrence. Now we're seeing snow, heavy snow, in other parts of Argentina, also in Chile. Now again, this time of year, the ski resorts in the Andes and Argentina and Chile are usually packed with people as they are this year, but the snow is really reaching other parts of the country as well. Northern Argentina has seen some snow. We've even got reports of snow reaching into Bolivia which is also a very rare occurrence. There's been deaths in Bolivia as well. They had some of their coldest temperatures in decades there and, in fact, authorities in Bolivia cancelled school Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, so they could deal with the cold there. And again we're seeing other problems as well in Paraguay. Apparently there's been over 1,000 dead cattle as a result of the cold. And even in Chile, even in the capital of Santiago where they're used to this very cold temperature, apparently they've been using, I'm hearing reports that a soccer stadium has been opened up to some of the homeless people to help them deal with the cold elements that they're experiencing there right now.

WERMAN: That's a new phrase for Bolivian kids, I guess. Snow days.

BYRNES: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. And this really is a result of this kind of low pressure that pushed the jet stream north and farther, farther north and sent all this really cold arctic air lingering here in Argentina and Chile, but then again making it's way up beyond to Bolivia and even into the Amazon in Peru and Brazil. They're also experiencing very cold temperatures right now.

WERMAN: Have the forecasters said when this cold snap is going to pass?

BYRNES: Well, here in Buenos Aires is has subsided quite a bit, but again the central part of Argentina and northern Argentina, still experiencing the cold snap and from what I've heard, they're expecting this weather to last for the next few days.

WERMAN: Reporter Brian Byrnes in Buenos Aires. Thanks very much.

BYRNES: Thanks, Marco.