SALTA, Argentina — A massive mudslide in northwestern Argentina that killed two people and forced more than 1,000 to evacuate has led Dakar Rally organizers to scrap Wednesday’s ninth stage.
The stage was to have run from Salta to Chilecito in Argentina’s Jujuy province in the Andes, about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level.
But the mudslide near the village of Volcan left the rally portion canceled.
The mudslide killed a man and woman caught by surprise early Tuesday and left at least 100 families without homes. Many more locals had to leave their housing, which was rendered unlivable for now.
The rally’s Salta to Chilecito stretch is the hardest of the run, with 98 percent of it off-road.
An alternative route and timing were being worked out, organizers said.
“Wednesday will be dedicated to regrouping all the race’s resources in Chilecito so that the event can continue by starting the 10th stage, Chilecito-San Juan Thursday,” organizers said in a statement.
It is the second stage to be wiped out in five days after Saturday’s sixth stage was also forced to be abandoned.
Torrential rain has wreaked havoc on this year’s competition and left competitors stranded on the roads used during Tuesday’s stage.
Meanwhile, Sebastien Loeb retook the lead when he dominated the eighth stage.
Loeb began the day less than a minute behind race leader Stephane Peterhansel but where the route was changed and the stage split at the border, because rain made swollen rivers impassable, Loeb zoomed ahead and made his fellow Frenchman look like he was driving on three wheels.
In the second part, on the run to Salta, Loeb was more than five minutes ahead of Peterhansel, but a puncture forced him to stop and he won his third stage of the race by nearly four minutes from Peterhansel, to lead the latter overall by 1 minute, 38 seconds.
Cyril Despres, the five-time motorbike champion, was more than five minutes back in third, giving Peugeot a 1-2-3 finish for the second time in the rally. That’s also how they stood in the overall.
Only Nani Roma, the 2014 champion, and Mikko Hirvonen, fourth on debut last year, were within an hour of Loeb, the rally great trying to win his first Dakar at his second attempt.
In the motorbike category, Joan Barreda of Spain won his second stage of the race comfortably.
Barreda was no threat to overall leader Sam Sunderland at more than an hour behind, and was free to attack. Sunderland tracked him though to finish third, about four minutes back, and the Briton still increased his overall lead to 21 minutes over Pablo Quintanilla of Chile, who was seventh on the stage.