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Chilean Authorities Declare Environmental Emergency

  • Associated Press

Smog shrouds Chile's capital Santiago, June 22, 2015.

Smog shrouds Chile's capital Santiago, June 22, 2015.

Authorities in Chile's largest city shut down hundreds of businesses and ordered hundreds of thousands of cars off the streets on Monday as a gray carpet of air pollution forced declaration of an environmental emergency in the city hosting the Copa America soccer tournament.

The order forced the closure of more than 1,300 businesses in Santiago that emit high levels of contaminants. It also parked large share of the capital region's estimated 1.7 million vehicles, especially older cars.

Authorities recommended the 7 million residents of the capital to 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 on Monday, as did Colombia, which is due to play on Friday.

But Santiago regional governor Claudio Orrego refused to rule out extending the emergency to Tuesday or Wednesday if conditions do not improve.

"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.

Orrego blamed part of the problem on masked protesters who have used the Copa to try draw attention to their causes by burning barricades in the streets.

"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 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 grey 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.