Chile authorities declare, then lift environmental emergency

  • AP, Santiago
  • Updated: Jun 23, 2015 07:34 IST

Authorities in Chile's capital shut down hundreds of businesses and ordered hundreds of thousands of cars off the streets Monday as a gray carpet of smog caused an environmental emergency in the city hosting the Copa America soccer tournament.

The emergency was declared ended Monday evening after air quality improved. But the Santiago government said in a statement that it still would order about 300,000 vehicles off the streets Tuesday, a little less than half the estimated 680,000 that were ordered parked Monday, especially older cars.

The emergency decree also forced closure of more than 1,300 businesses that emit high levels of contaminants in Santiago, which is the country's largest city. The latest government statement did not say if businesses would be affected Tuesday.

During the day, authorities recommended that the 7 million residents of the capital avoid outdoor physical activity, but the emergency order had no immediate effect on preparations for Wednesday's Copa America soccer match between Chile and Uruguay.

Chile's team trained Monday as did Colombia, which is scheduled to play Friday. Players were taking the alert in stride. "That topic we see on the television, but we aren't talking about it. We're 100 percent involved in soccer," said Uruguay team captain Diego Godin.

The Santiago regional governor, Claudio Orrego, blamed part of the pollution on masked protesters who have put up burning barricades in the streets trying to use the soccer tournament to draw attention to their causes. "These people not only have no head, they have no heart," he said.

With so many cars off the roads, subways were packed and officials were forced to close some stations temporarily because of the jam.

Santiago has the Andes mountain range on one side and several smaller hills in different parts of the city that often trap a gray haze of pollution. Officials this year also have started to measure smaller particles than in the past, the sort that can easily reach the lungs.

The city has suffered the driest June in four decades and no rain is forecast for at least another week.

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