Morales declares Bolivian floods a national disaster

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By JUAN KARITA

Associated Press Writer

TRINIDAD, Bolivia (AP) -- President Evo Morales declared Bolivia's devastating floods a national disaster on Tuesday, freeing more government funds to confront a crisis his government has linked to global climate change.

Flooding across Bolivia's eastern lowlands has killed 50 people and affected some 43,000 families since November, according to Bolivian officials.

Floodwaters in some places have topped a raised highway protecting Trinidad, where Morales met Monday with local officials.

On Tuesday the sun came out over the besieged provincial capital of 90,000, raising hopes that the waters would spare the city center.

Morales' declaration followed pressure from eastern state governors, his fiercest critics, who had accused the populist president of responding too slowly to the disaster.

Morales, in turn, has criticized the eastern governors for campaigning for greater autonomy from the central government even while wide swaths of their states are flooded.

The U.S. has donated $500,000 in tents and supplies and Venezuela sent a pair of helicopters to help out.

A rainy season aggravated by La Nina -- a periodic cooling of waters in the Pacific Ocean -- has hit hard all across Bolivia.

Many residents in the capital La Paz, high in the Andes, are living under severe water rationing because rain-fed landslides last month ruptured water mains throughout the city.

In Trinidad, a city plaza has been converted into refugee camp for people fleeing the town's flooded outskirts.

Some scientists believe higher ocean temperatures caused by global warming boost the amount of moisture in the air and cause the El Nino weather pattern -- and its echo, La Nina -- to occur more frequently and cause more intense climate disruptions.