High waves crash against the sea wall during a heavy wind storm in Montevideo, Uruguay, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. A powerful storm blew across the southern cone of South America, breaking windows in several buildings in Uruguay's capital, toppling about a hundred trees and cutting off three highways due to flooding. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)
ASUNCION, Paraguay — A powerful storm killed five people and injured 81 in Paraguay as it blew across the southern cone of South America on Wednesday, ripping roofs off ramshackle homes and leaving thousands of people without shelter.
No deaths were reported outside Paraguay, but power outages were widespread and many people had to be evacuated as rivers overran their banks and coastal areas flooded. Wind gusts reached above 62 mph and heavy rains raked Paraguay, southern Brazil, northern Argentina and Uruguay.
Near Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion, four soldiers died and 14 were injured when their dormitory roof caved in, and a falling sign killed a teenage girl outside a shopping center in the suburb of Mariano Roque Alonso.
“All the lights went out and the wind began to blow, but this wind we thought it was a hurricane. It lasted about two minutes. It was terrible,” said Andres Caballero, who was inside the shopping center.
Tin roofs littered the streets of the suburb after the storm blew through, and Mayor Heriberto Marmol said that “a large part of the city needs to be reconstructed.”
Paraguay’s interior minister, Carmelo Caballero, said the national emergency office would donate materials so that people can rebuild.
Meteorologist Eliana Klering in Brazil said the cold front caused heavy downpours and flooding, with winds that “reached 100 kilometers per hour and ripped tiles off roofs.”
Uruguay’s government closed shopping malls and shut down its ports as a precaution, suspending ferry service to Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires. The wind broke windows in several buildings in Uruguay’s capital and toppled about a hundred trees. Three of the country’s highways were cut off by flooding.
The low-pressure system also sucked humidity from northwestern Argentina, where high winds and unseasonably hot temperatures combined to spark at least eight wildfires.