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Argentine Front-Runner Scioli Cuts Short Italy Trip to Battle Floods

People whose homes were flooded after heavy rain protest with a burning road block in Lujan, Argentina, Aug. 11, 2015.
People whose homes were flooded after heavy rain protest with a burning road block in Lujan, Argentina, Aug. 11, 2015.

Argentina's presidential front-runner Daniel Scioli cut short a trip to Italy for work on his prosthetic arm, returning to the province he governs amid mounting criticism over his handling of flooding that has forced thousands from their homes.

Gale-force winds whipped heavy rains across Buenos Aires province on Thursday for the seventh straight day, prompting Scioli to declare a flooding emergency and defend his regional government's investment in water and drainage works.

Buenos Aires province, roughly the size of Ecuador or the U.S. state of New Mexico, is home to one in three Argentines, and be a key battle ground in the Oct. 25 presidential election.

Angry residents complained efforts had been slow to combat the floodwaters, which have killed several people.

"Nobody has come to help us, to ask if we need anything," said flood victim Maria de los Angeles in Lujan, located 68 km (42.3 miles) northwest of the capital.

"It is embarrassing that politicians were going through the streets before the primary election last Sunday," she said. "Now they don't need our votes? Take off your shoes and get wet!"

Scioli, the candidate for outgoing President Cristina Fernandez's party, said he had been in regular contact with agencies coordinating the flood response during his absence.

More than 4,000 people evacuated their homes and thousands more suffered flood damage after 300 millimeters, or about a third of the typical annual rainfall for the affected zones, fell in a few days, Scioli said.

Scioli's opponents were quick to pounce on his decision to travel to Italy on Tuesday while rivers were bursting their banks.

His nearest rival, Mauricio Macri, the conservative mayor of Buenos Aires city, said he had offered the capital's help to the provincial authorities. Macri needs to galvanize more support in Buenos Aires province to widen his voter base.

"The only solution is infrastructure works; it's not magic," the daily La Nacion newspaper on Thursday quoted Macri as saying. "If the Buenos Aires province government had delivered on promised water works, things would have been better."

Scioli retorted that his focus was on helping flood victims.

"Now is not the time to be compiling an inventory of public works," he said.

Television pictures showed rescue workers pushing boats through rundown low-income neighborhoods that are knee-deep in water, while some residents used canoes to move around.

Heavy rain is expected until late Thursday or Friday morning, according to local weather reports.