Argentinian security forces recently helped millions of civilians cope with the country’s worst heat wave in a century. The high temperatures killed at least eight people and left thousands of people without electricity.
The heat wave lasted from Dec. 11 2013 through Jan. 2, 2014. The National Meteorological Service (SMN) reported that the temperature in some areas reached 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit).
The heat made life miserable, Argentinians said. High demand for air conditioning overwhelmed the power grid in some regions, where power was knocked out. Some regions were without electricity for three weeks. “It was an oven. We were worse off than in the Middle Ages,” said Néstor Nini, 54, a resident of Buenos Aires.
“It was utter helplessness being in a country that has everything and not have basic services - electricity and water - to move forward. Almost three weeks without electricity and extreme temperatures was overwhelming. The mood of the people was not the best; in some cases we had to seek help from the authorities, in other cases, from neighbors or friends.”
Security forces respond
About 800,000 people in Buenos Aires lost power during the heat wave. That meant they were without air conditioning and power to run their refrigerators.
More than 20,000 security agents mobilized to help hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country who were without water, food, and electricity, authorities said.
“Some 24,000 personnel from the National Gendarmerie, Coast Guard, Federal Police (PFA), and Airport Security (PSA) Police launched a special operation to assist the most vulnerable to the power outages and intense heat wave in the province of Buenos Aires and other cities in the north of the country,” according to a statement issued on Dec. 28, 2013, by Security Minister María Cecilia Rodríguez and Security Secretary, Sergio Berni. The two officials issued the statement from the headquarters of the PFA.
Soldiers with the Army Engineer Brigade repaired hundreds of power transformers and wires which were burned out by record electricity consumption, Berni said. The security forces were sent where the need was greatest, authorities said.
“We are assigning security forces to these situations and responding to all areas of need, focusing on helping the most vulnerable populations,” Rodríguez said when she announced the efforts of security agents to help civilians survive the heat wave.
Armed Forces collaborate with civilian security agents
The Buenos Aires and Metropolitan Police forces joined efforts with the Armed Forces and National Police in helping people affected by the heat wave, the Defense Ministry said in a written report.
For example, in Buenos Aires, Army soldiers set up health posts and handed out containers of water to thousands of hot and thirsty people, authorities said. The soldiers distributed more than 10,700 liters of drinking water in sachets were distributed, according to the website of the Presidency of the Republic of Argentina.
In the capital city, physicians from the Naval Hospital and Central Military Hospital treated dozens of people for heatstroke, sunstroke, and dehydration.
Seven of the eight people who died because of the heat wave expired in the province of Santiago del Estero, where temperatures reached 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit).
Dead fish and a blow to the economy
High temperatures depleted oxygen levels in the Ciudad Universitaria Ecological Reserve of Santa Fe, about 400 kilometers north of Buenos Aires, authorities said. Hundreds of fish died because they lacked oxygen, according to published reports. Most of the dead fish were catfish and shad.
With tens of thousands of businesses lacking electricity for weeks, the heat wave also slowed economic activity in the capital city and the urban belt known as Gran Buenos Aires.
The Federation of Chambers and Commerce of Argentina (Fedecamaras) estimated that the outages caused around 50,000 businesses in Buenos Aires to lose about US$76 million.
The heat wave in Argentina was the longest on record since officials began taking meteorological measurements in 1906. The warmest December was in 1994, when meteorologists recorded an average temperature of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), according to SMN.
The heat wave was caused by “the domain of high pressure in medium and upper levels of the atmosphere that prevent the advance of colder air masses from the south, the SMN explained.
The heat wave reached at least 52 cities across the country. The provinces that recorded the highest temperatures included Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, La Pampa, Mendoza, Neuquén, and Río Negro.
A quick response: security analyst
Argentina’s security forces provided quick and efficient assistance to millions of civilians who were struggling to survive the heat wave, said Yadira Gálvez, a security analyst with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
“The Armed Forces, National Police, and various security forces of Argentina responded quickly to assist the population affected by the heat wave after the weather emergency was decreed,” Gálvez, said.
Argentina’s Armed Forces are trained responding to natural disasters and cooperating with civil authorities to assist the civilian population, Gálvez said.
Security forces must remain vigilant
Another heat wave could strike Argentina during the first part of 2014, according to Enzo Campetella, a meteorologist for Tiempo Patagónico, a website devoted to weather news.
“The temperatures in the northern Patagonia region of Argentina, and in some parts of the central regions of la Araucanía and Bío Bío in Chile, may break historical records for the month of January,” Campetella said.