Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has said that the situation was "bleak" in the country's flood-hit north after 10 people were killed, 19 missing and hundreds were left homeless.

Deadly rains swept through the normally arid area last week.

The president had visited the devastated Atacama region and nearby Antofagasta.

The downpour began late Tuesday in the Atacama region, home to the world's most arid desert and riverbeds which had been dry for years into torrents.

Desperate residents scrambled onto the roofs of their houses or fled to high ground to escape the floodwaters, which turned the streets into rivers that swept up nearly everything in their path.

The interior ministry declared a state of emergency late Wednesday and invoked a constitutional clause transferring power from the regional government to the military.

After two days of rain, the sun came out on Friday and revealed the extent of the destruction.

The weather service has said the rains were at least 10 times greater in volume than the region normally gets in a year.

The area has seen years of drought and was not prepared for the deluge -- the last major flood was in 1997.