El Niño prediction is good news for LA, but Peruvian expats are worried

A wet El Niño winter could bring relief to drought-parched Southern California. But it could bring flooding and landslides to Peru, where the government is already bracing for possible disaster.
A wet El Niño winter could bring relief to drought-parched Southern California. But it could bring flooding and landslides to Peru, where the government is already bracing for possible disaster.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

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The promise of a wet El Niño year is welcome news for most people living in parched Southern California. But not so much for those who come from Peru, where it could wreak havoc.

The Peruvian government has already declared a 60-day state of emergency in several parts of the country in anticipation of floods and landslides.

Peruvian expats are worried. Milagros Lizarraga of Simi Valley just returned from visiting family in Peru, where's it's now winter - typically the driest season. She said it's already rainier than usual, and colder in the mountains.

“With this El Niño, that area is going to be affected even more," Lizarraga said. "They are expecting the winter to be even colder than it normally is."

Over the weekend in Los Angeles, one group hosted a fundraiser to benefit a medical mission in Puno, in the Peruvian Andes. Physician Ralph Kuon said temperatures there have already claimed lives.

His Peruvian American Medical Society travels to Peru and provides free health care to the poor. As he prepared last Friday to leave from Los Angeles, Kuon was thinking about what needs might lie ahead.

“I’m going to go and talk with the Ministry of Health and see what we can do to help," Kuon said. "There will be a lot of rain. There will be mudslides, and highways will be blocked."

The predicted El Niño could be the strongest in years. Peru has been hit hard in the past: The country suffered devastating floods in 1997, during an especially strong El Niño season.

Lizarraga is part of another local expat group, Peru U.S.A. of Southern California. She said that while some are thinking ahead to relief if disaster hits, there's still lots of organizing to be done.

"I believe it's time to do something, because everybody knows that El Niño is coming very strongly this year, and every year there is help needed," she said.

The term "El Niño," which refers to the Christ child, is thought to have been coined by South American fishermen. The weather pattern is linked to a warm current that appears off the Pacific coast of South America during some years, typically around December.