Biden tells Morehouse graduates that scenes in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war break his heart, too

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US President Joe Biden addresses Morehouse College graduates during a commencement ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 19, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Pro-Palestinian supporters protest near the commencement at Morehouse College on May 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP)
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Updated 20 May 2024
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Biden tells Morehouse graduates that scenes in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war break his heart, too

  • “Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them,” Biden said as protesters called for end to war in Gaza and liberation of Palestinians
  • Biden also condemned Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants as he stepped up effort to reach out to Black constituents

ATLANTA: President Joe Biden on Sunday offered his most direct recognition of US students’ anguish over the Israel-Hamas war, telling graduates of historically Black Morehouse College that he heard their voices of protest and that scenes from the conflict in Gaza break his heart, too.

“I support peaceful nonviolent protest,” he told students at the all-male college, some of whom wore Palestinian scarves known as keffiyehs around their shoulders on top of their black graduation gowns. “Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them.”

Biden said there’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, “that’s why I’ve called for an immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting” and bring home hostages still being held by Hamas after its militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7. The president’s comments came near the end of a commencement address in which he also reflected on American democracy and his role in safeguarding it.
“It’s one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world,” Biden said. “There’s nothing easy about it. I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family. But most of all I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well.”
To date, Biden had limited his public comments around the protests on US college campuses to upholding the right to peaceful protest.
The speech — and a separate one he gave later Sunday in Detroit — are part of a burst of outreach to Black constituents by the Democratic president, whose support among these voters has softened since their strong backing helped put him in the Oval Office.
Biden spent much of the approximately 30-minute speech focused on the problems at home. He condemned Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants and noted that the class of 2024 entered college during the COVID-19 pandemic and following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Biden said it was natural for them, and others, to wonder whether the democracy “you hear about actually works for you.”
“If Black men are being killed in the street. What is democracy?” he asked. “The trail of broken promises that still leave Black communities behind. What is democracy? If you have to be 10 times better than anyone else to get a fair shot.”
Anti-war protests have roiled America’s college campuses. Columbia University canceled its main commencement ceremony. At Morehouse, the announcement that Biden would be the commencement speaker drew some backlash among the faculty and those who oppose the president’s handling of the war. Some Morehouse alumni circulated an online letter condemning administrators for inviting Biden and solicited signatures to pressure Morehouse President David Thomas to rescind it.
The letter claimed that Biden’s approach to Israel amounted to support of genocide in Gaza and was out of step with the pacifism expressed by Martin Luther King Jr., Morehouse’s most famous graduate.
The Hamas attack on southern Israel killed 1,200 people. Israel’s offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to health officials in the territory.
In the end, there were no disruptions of Morehouse’s commencement while applause for Biden mostly was subdued. At least seven graduates and one faculty member sat with their backs turned during Biden’s address, and another student draped himself in a Palestinian flag. Protesters near the ceremony carried signs that said “Free Palestine,” “Save the Children” and ”Ceasefire Now” as police on bikes kept watch.
On stage behind the president as he spoke, academics unfurled a Congolese flag. The African country has been mired in a civil war, and many racial justice advocates have called for greater attention to the conflict as well as American help in ending the violence.
During his speech, valedictorian DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher, of Chicago, said it was his duty to speak on the war in Gaza and recognize that both Palestinians and Israelis have suffered. He called for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.”
Graduate Kingsley John said, “the temperature on campus was expected given we had the president of the United States come and speak.” John said he stood “in solidarity” with his classmates and that Biden “seemed to be reflective and open to hear the feedback.”
Morehouse awarded Biden an honorary doctor of laws degree. After accepting the honor, he joked that, “I’m not going home” as chants of “four more years” broke out in the audience. Biden then flew to Detroit to address thousands attending the local NAACP chapter’s annual Freedom Fund dinner.
Georgia and Michigan are among a handful of states that will help decide November’s expected rematch between Biden and Trump. Biden narrowly won Georgia and Michigan in 2020 and he needs strong Black voter turnout in Atlanta and Detroit if he hopes to repeat in November.
Biden spent part of the past week reaching out to Black constituents. He highlighted key moments in the Civil Rights Movement, from the 70th anniversary of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed racial segregation in public schools to the Little Rock Nine, who helped integrate a public school in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. He also met with members of the “Divine Nine” Black fraternities and sororities.
At the NAACP dinner, Biden told a largely Black crowd that numbered into the thousands that Trump wants to pardon those who were convicted of crimes during the insurrection at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and calls them “patriots.” He suggested that Trump would not have been so kind had they been people of color.
“Let me ask you, what do you think he would’ve done on Jan. 6 if Black Americans had stormed the Capitol?” Biden asked. “What do you think? I can only imagine.”
The speech gave Biden a chance to reach thousands of people in Wayne County, which historically has voted overwhelmingly Democratic but has shown signs of resistance to his reelection bid.
The county also holds one of the largest Arab American populations in the nation, predominantly in the city of Dearborn. Leaders there were at the forefront of an “uncommitted” effort that received over 100,000 votes in the state’s Democratic primary and spread across the country.
A protest rally and march against Biden’s visit took place in Dearborn in the afternoon.
In Detroit, guests at the NAACP dinner were met by over 200 pro-Palestinian protesters outside the entrance to the convention center. They waved Palestinian flags, held signs calling for a ceasefire and chanted “free, free Palestine.”
“Until Joe Biden listens to his key constituents, he’s risking handing the presidency to Donald Trump,” said Lexi Zeidan, a protest leader who help spearhead a protest effort that resulted in over 100,000 people voting “uncommitted” in February’s Democratic primary.
 


Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

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Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

  • Protesters barricaded the multistory Student Services Building with university President Berenecea Johnson Eanes and others inside
  • Images from the scene showed graffiti on the building, furniture blocking doorways and overturned golf carts, picnic tables and umbrellas barricading the plaza out front

LOS ANGELES: Demonstrators protesting Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza occupied and trashed a building at California State University, Los Angeles, while the campus president was inside, but the takeover ended early Thursday without arrests, a spokesperson said.

Protesters barricaded the multistory Student Services Building at 4 p.m. Wednesday with university President Berenecea Johnson Eanes and dozens of other employees inside, said spokesperson Erik Frost Hollins.
Most of the 58 employees got out by 6 p.m. except for a group of administrators who remained until after midnight to manage the situation. The group included Eanes, but Frost Hollins would not say whether the president interacted with the protesters.
“That falls under tactics that we are not discussing at this point,” the spokesperson said.
Most of the protesters left the building around 1:15 a.m. Thursday and returned to an encampment on the campus. A few remaining protesters left when university police ordered them out, Frost Hollins said.
In a statement Thursday afternoon to the school community, Eanes said she has engaged with protesters who have occupied the campus encampment for some 40 days.
“So long as the encampment remained non-violent, I was committed that the university would continue to talk,” the president wrote. But in the wake of destruction and theft that occurred Wednesday, a line was crossed and “those in the encampment must leave.”
“I am saddened, and I am angry,” Eanes said. “Campus community: Know that we will recover from this, but also know that I am committed to doing everything we can to ensure this will never be allowed to repeat. I cannot and would not protect anyone who is directly identified as having participated in last night’s illegal activities from being held accountable.”
There were no arrests and no injuries were reported, but “assaults” were reported by three employees and one student, according to Eanes. Officials said those were a law enforcement matter.
The university, meanwhile, announced that all main campus classes and operations would be remote until further notice.
Images from the scene showed graffiti on the building, furniture blocking doorways and overturned golf carts, picnic tables and umbrellas barricading the plaza out front.
“We don’t have an exact appraisal on it but there was damage to the exterior, the interior, equipment, materials, structure — it was significant damage,” Frost Hollins said.
The CSULA Gaza Solidarity Encampment, a group that has camped near the campus gym for about 40 days, sent an email indicating that members were staging a sit-in in the building, Hollins said.


Cheers, cake and a fist-bump from GOP as Trump returns to Capitol Hill in a first since Jan. 6 riot

Updated 15 min 52 sec ago
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Cheers, cake and a fist-bump from GOP as Trump returns to Capitol Hill in a first since Jan. 6 riot

  • Despite pending federal charges against him, Trump arrived emboldened as the party’s presumptive nominee
  • He has successfully purged the GOP of critics, silenced most skeptics and enticed once-critical lawmakers aboard his MAGA-fueled campaign
  • Even Trump's most prominent Republican critic, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, shook hands, and fist-bumped with him

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump made a triumphant return to Capitol Hill on Thursday, his first with lawmakers since the Jan. 6, 2021 attacks, embraced by energized House and Senate Republicans who find themselves reinvigorated by his bid to retake the White House.

Despite pending federal charges against Trump for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, and his recent guilty verdict in an unrelated hush money trial, the Republican former president arrived emboldened as the party’s presumptive nominee. He has successfully purged the GOP of critics, silenced most skeptics and enticed once-critical lawmakers aboard his MAGA-fueled campaign.
A packed room of House Republicans sang “Happy Birthday” to Trump in a private breakfast meeting at GOP campaign headquarters across the street from the Capitol. The lawmakers gave him a baseball and bat from the annual congressional game, and senators later presented an American flag cake with “45” candles — and then “47” — referring to the next presidency. Trump bragged that even his telephone rallies for lawmakers could draw bigger crowds than mega-popstar Taylor Swift, who has yet to make any endorsement.
In one remarkable moment, Trump and his most prominent Republican critic, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, shook hands, and fist-bumped.

 

“There’s tremendous unity in the Republican Party,” Trump said in brief remarks at Senate GOP headquarters.

Trump spent about an hour each with House and Senate Republicans delivering free-wheeling remarks, fielding questions and discussing issues — including Russia and immigration, tax cuts and other priorities for a potential second term.
During the morning session, Trump said House Speaker Mike Johnson is doing a “terrific job,” according to a Republican in the private meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it. Trump asked Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the speaker’s chief Republican critic, if she was being “nice” to Johnson, another Republican said.
“President Trump brought an extraordinary amount of energy, excitement and enthusiasm this morning,” Johnson said afterward, noting high fund-raising tallies since the guilty verdict. “We’re feeling good.”
The Republican speaker had demurred earlier over whether he’s asked Trump to respect the peaceful transfer of presidential power and commit to not doing another Jan. 6. “Of course he respects that, we all do, and we’ve all talked about it, ad nauseum.”
Many potential priorities for a new White House administration are being formulated by a constellation of outside groups, including Project 2025, laying the groundwork for executive and legislative actions, though Trump has made clear he has his own agenda.
“Anybody who thought that this president was going to be down after the sham trial. it’s only giving him even more energy,” said Rep. Tom Emmer, the GOP whip. “Donald Trump is crushing this election.”

Donald Trump reacts as he is applauded by Republicans at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 13, 2024. (REUTERS)

But Trump’s private meetings with House and Senate Republicans so close to the Capitol were infused with the symbolism of his return as the US president who threatened the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.
“It’s frustrating,” said former US Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who made his own unsuccessful run for Congress as a Maryland Democrat in the aftermath of Jan. 6, the day when police engaged in hand-to-hand fighting to stop Trump supporters who stormed the building in an effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s election.
Dunn spoke of the “irony” of Trump returning to the area and lawmakers now embracing him. “It just shows the lack of backbone they have when they’re truly putting party and person over country,” he said. “And it’s sad.”
Biden was overseas Thursday attending a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, but the president’s campaign unveiled a new ad blaming Trump for lighting the “fire” of Jan. 6 and threatening democracy.
Many of those who once stood up to Trump are long gone from office and the Republicans who remain seem increasingly enthusiastic about the possibility of him retaking the White House, and the down-ballot windfall that could mean for their own GOP majorities in Congress.
Thursday afternoon offered the first encounter in years between Trump and McConnell, who once blamed Trump for the “disgraceful” attack that he called an “insurrection” but now endorses the party’s presumptive nominee.
Trump addressed the situation directly, saying he intends to work with everyone and that McConnell had “done his best” as leader, said Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, an ally of the former president.

According to Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, who organized the conference meeting, after Trump addressed the group McConnell gave a thumbs up and the two approached each other and exchanged the fist-bump.
“We had a really positive meeting,” McConnell said. “He and I got a chance to talk a little bit, shook hands a few times.”
As democracies around the world come under threat from a far-rightward shift, some analysts warn that the US system, once seemingly immune from authoritarian impulses, is at risk of populist and extremist forces like those that Trump inspired to sack the Capitol.
“This is just another example of House Republicans bending the knee to Donald Trump,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

In this photo taken during on January 6, 2021, rioting pro-Trump supporters occupy parts of the attack on the US Capitol building to protest Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election. Returning to the Capitol for the first time since the riot, Trump described as "patriots" those rioters. some of whom had been charged or sentenced to prison for insurrection. (Shutterstock)

Making Jan. 6 a cornerstone of his reelection campaign, Trump celebrates those who stormed the Capitol as “warriors” and “patriots,” and he has vowed to pardon any number of the more than 1,200 people charged with crimes for the assault on the seat of US democracy.
Moreover, Trump has vowed to seek retribution by ousting officials at the US Justice Department, which is prosecuting him in a four-count indictment to overturn the election ahead of the Jan. 6 attack and another case over storing classified documents at his Mar-A-Largo home.
Republicans, particularly in the House but increasingly in the Senate, are vigorously following his lead, complaining of an unfair justice system. It’s having noticeable results: the House and Senate GOP campaign arms scored some of their highest fundraising periods yet after a jury found him guilty in the New York hush money case.
When former GOP Speaker Paul Ryan on Fox News reiterated this week that he wouldn’t be voting for Trump and wished Republicans had another choice for president, he was immediately ostracized by Trump allies.
“Paul Ryan, you’re a piece of garbage,” said Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas. “We should kick you out of the party.”
Of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over Jan. 6 and convict him on the charge of inciting the insurrection, only a few remain in office.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had not been expected to attend Thursday’s closed-door session with Trump. But Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, joined as did Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana
Cassidy said he’s attending the Trump meeting expecting “he’s going to be the next president, so you have to work” together.
Asked if he was concerned about the direction of the Trump Republican Party, Cassidy said: “Let the day’s own troubles be sufficient for the day. You can fill yourself up with anxiety about tomorrow, but will it change a thing? No.”


Minnesota man who joined Daesh sentenced to 10 years in prison

Updated 14 June 2024
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Minnesota man who joined Daesh sentenced to 10 years in prison

MINNEAPOLIS: A Minnesota man who once fought for the Daesh group in Syria after becoming radicalized expressed remorse and wept in open court Thursday as he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

Abelhamid Al-Madioum, 27, cooperated with federal authorities ahead of Thursday’s hearing, which prosecutors factored into their recommendation for a lower sentence than the statutory maximum of 20 years.

US District Judge Ann Montgomery said among the cases she has presided over in her 40 years on the bench, Al-Madioum’s was “extraordinary.” She cited his confounding path from a loving Minnesota home to one of the world’s most notorious terror organizations and his subsequent collaboration with the government he betrayed.

When Al-Madioum rose to speak before being sentenced, he thanked the US government for giving him another chance. He then turned to address his parents and two young sons, who were rescued from a Syrian orphanage and brought to America with the help of federal authorities.

“I know I put you through so much, and I did with the belief that it was my religious duty,” Al-Madioum said while fighting back tears. “That’s no excuse. My first duty should have been to you.”

Al-Madioum, a naturalized US citizen, was among several Minnesotans suspected of leaving the US to join the Daesh group, along with thousands of fighters from other countries worldwide. Roughly three dozen people are known to have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Somalia or Syria. In 2016, nine Minnesota men were sentenced on federal charges of conspiring to join Daesh.

But Al-Madioum is one of the relatively few Americans who have been brought back to the US who actually fought for the group. According to a defense sentencing memo, he’s one of 11 adults as of 2023 to be formally repatriated to the US from the conflict in Syria and Iraq to face charges for terrorist-related crimes and alleged affiliations with IS. Others received sentences ranging from four years to life plus 70 years.

Prosecutors had asked for a 12-year sentence, arguing that Al-Madioum’s suffering did not make his crimes any less serious. Assistant US Attorney Andrew Winter said Al-Madioum self-radicalized online and helped daesh, also known as Daesh, carry out its goals.

“Young men just like him all over the world ... allowed Daesh to flourish,” Winter said.

Manvir Atwal, Al-Madioum’s attorney requested a seven-year sentence. She said Al-Madioum was taken in as an impressionable teenager by a well-oiled propaganda machine. He rejected extremist ideology years ago and had helped the government in other terrorism cases, which prosecutors confirmed.

Montgomery opted for a 10-year sentence, weighing sentencing guidelines with Al-Madioum’s cooperation and letters on his behalf, including one from an unnamed former US ambassador. He has already served over five years and might get credit for that time, Atwal said.

Al-Madioum grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park in a loving and nonreligious family, the defense memo said. He joined Daesh because he wanted to help Muslims he believed were being slaughtered by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in that country’s civil war. IS recruiters persuaded him “to test his faith and become a real Muslim.”

Al-Madioum was 18 in 2014 when IS recruited him. The college student slipped away from his family on a visit to their native Morocco in 2015. Making his way to Syria, he became a soldier for Daesh until he was maimed in an explosion in Iraq. His leg was shattered and his arm had to be amputated. Unable to fight, he used his computer skills to serve the group.

While still a member of Daesh, he married and had children with two women.

He had thought his second wife and their daughter had died. But in court Thursday, Al-Madioum said he had heard there is a chance she and their daughter might still be alive. That possibility remains under investigation, Atwal said.

Al-Madioum’s first wife died in his arms after she was shot in front of him by either rebel forces or an Daesh fighter in 2019, the defense said. Al-Madioum said in court that he dug a trench and buried her.

The day after that shooting, he walked with his sons and surrendered to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which held him under conditions the defense described as “heinous” for 18 months until the FBI returned him to the US

He pleaded guilty in 2021 to providing material support to a designated terrorist organization. His sons were eventually found in a Syrian orphanage, the culmination of what he and Montgomery described as a unique effort from US diplomats and other officials.

Al-Madioum’s parents were awarded custody of his sons after they arrived in America. Sitting in the court’s gallery Thursday, his sons, ages 7 and 9, sat on their grandparents’ laps and smiled at their father as he turned to face them.


US, Britain, Canada accuse Russia of plot to sway Moldova election

Updated 14 June 2024
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US, Britain, Canada accuse Russia of plot to sway Moldova election

KYIV/WASHINGTON: The United States, Britain and Canada accused Russia on Thursday of carrying out a plot to sway the outcome of the Moldovan presidential election in October and incite protests if a pro-Moscow candidate should lose.
Russia is working to exacerbate societal tensions and foment negative perceptions of the West and the incumbent team of Moldova’s pro-Western President Maia Sandu through disinformation and online propaganda, they said in a statement issued by the State Department in Washington.
“We are taking this step to warn our democratic partners and allies that Russian actors are carrying out a plot to influence the outcomes of Moldova’s fall 2024 presidential election,” they said.
The plot, they said, is part of wider attempts by Moscow to subvert democratic elections to “secure results favorable to the Kremlin.”
The threat is especially relevant this year as hundreds of million of voters in Europe and North America cast ballots in national, regional and local elections, the statement said.
The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean said on social media platform X that he was grateful for support from the three allies and vowed that the “Kremlin’s attempts to undermine our sovereignty and incite unrest will not succeed.”

Moldova, a former Soviet republic of 2.5 million people, has fiercely condemned Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, accused Moscow of plotting the Moldovan government’s overthrow and expelled Russian diplomats.
Russia, the allies said, is backing presidential candidates in Moldova and unidentified pro-Russia actors are “actively using disinformation and propaganda online, on the air and on the streets to further their objectives.”
These actors are fanning criticism of Sandu and her Party of Action and Solidarity to incite protests and plan to spread lies about her character and “supposed electoral irregularities.”
The allies issued the statement a day after the United States imposed sanctions on Evgenia Gutul, the pro-Russia governor of Moldova’s Gagauzia region.

Yevgenia Gutsul, leader of Moldovia's Gagauzia region. R)EUTERS/File Photo

Gutul faces criminal allegations of channelling funds from Russia to finance the now-banned Shor Party set up by Ilan Shor, an exiled pro-Russia businessman convicted of fraud in Moldova.
She denies the allegations as fabricated.
During a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Chisinau last month, Sandu accused the Kremlin of using criminal groups in Gagauzia to bring in Russian money to finance de-stabilizing activities and attempts “to bribe the elections.”
In the joint statement, the allies said they shared Sandu’s concerns that the Kremlin is using criminal groups to finance political activities.
Moscow’s political interference, they said, dates back years, and they cited as an example “direct support” that employees of Russia’s state-funded RT media network have provided to Shor.

 

 


State of ‘catastrophe’ as downpours hit Chile

Updated 14 June 2024
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State of ‘catastrophe’ as downpours hit Chile

SANTIAGO: Heavy rains battered south and central Chile on Thursday, killing one person and causing damage to hundreds of homes as authorities declared a state of catastrophe in five regions of the South American country.

A person died in the southern city of Linares when a street lamp post fell after hours-long downpours and strong winds, the Senapred disaster response service said.

Chile’s weather service issued the highest level of alarm, covering some 14 million of the 20 million people living in six of the country’s 16 regions, but this was later lifted as authorities said 80 percent of the storm had passed, and was headed for neighboring Argentina.

Prior to the arrival of the flood waters, Chile’s central region had battled severe drought for 15 years.

“We need boats to get people out,” a resident in one of the affected towns, Curanilahue, told national television.

Curanilahue, some 600 kilometers (372 miles) south of the capital Santiago, has been hard hit as the Curanilahue and Las Ranas rivers overflowed after the area received 350 millimeters (13.7 inches) of rain in just hours — more than in 2023 as a whole.

Some 2,000 houses in the area were damaged.

President Gabriel Boric, in a message from Sweden where he was on an official visit, warned that the rains “will continue very strongly,” as he announced the first death.

Interior Minister Carolina Toha, before boarding a plane to visit the affected areas, said a state of “catastrophe” had been declared in five regions to expedite the deployment of resources.

Senapred said the downpours have affected some 3,300 people, down from an initial estimate of 4,300.

In the capital Santiago, which also saw heavy rains, schools were closed for the day and authorities urged people to limit their movements.

In the city of Vina del Mar, experts worked to save a 12-story apartment building at risk of collapse after the rains caused a massive sinkhole underneath it.

The weather service said a cold front over the country was accompanied by something called an “atmospheric river” — a strip of air carrying huge amounts of moisture.