A violent storm described as a “freak tornado” has shredded hundreds of houses and killed at least 14 people in the southern part of South America, officials said.
Northern Argentina and southern Brazil, and the small countries of Uruguay and Paraguay wedged between them, were hit by a fierce atmospheric mass packing rain, hail and winds over 120 kilometres per hour.
In northeastern Argentina, 10 people died, including seven children, authorities said.
More than 50 others were injured, and trees and power lines were toppled in the towns of Santa Rosa, Tobuna and Pozo Azul, said Ricardo Veselka Corrales, head of the local civil defence office.
Witnesses and local media described the storm as a tornado.
Meteorologists were wary, although the US National Climatic Data Centre said the area is the only place in South America with a likelihood of experiencing the high-speed spinning tubes of destructive wind.
“It could have been a tornado,” said Jorge Leguizamon, of Argentina’s National Meteorological Service.
“The phenomenon still hasn’t been classified, experts will have to evaluate the damage.”
What was clear was that “it’s not normal for this area,” said the provincial minister, Daniel Franco.
“We’ve always had very strong winds and torrential rains here but this was a phenomenon never seen before. Houses were completely destroyed,” he said.
The devastation was “incredible,” said the mayor of San Pedro, Orlando Wolfart, noting that several homes had been wiped from their foundations.
Television images showed a destroyed landscape, with several homes levelled and others still standing but with their roofs ripped off.
In the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, similar devastation occurred from what the region’s civil defence service agreed was “a probable tornado.”
Four people died when winds ravaged 37 towns and villages, knocking over more than 100 homes and blasting others with hail big enough to puncture roofs, it said in a statement.
At least another 64 people were hurt, 40 of whom were hospitalised.