After weeks of continuous rains in the high Andes, on Sunday 24th January, just as it got dark, a huge storm hit the highland region again. Three times the monthly norm fell that night, causing the worse floods for years in the region. Streets in Cusco were turned into raging rivers with rapids that I would consider to be grade three, if they were actually in a river. The waters washed houses away demolished bridges & caused landslides all over the city & much worse in the province.
Peru’s most famous tourist attraction was also in the firing line too – Machu Picchu.
An Argentinean tourist & Peruvian Guide were killed on the Inca Trail when a huge landslide swept down the mountainside killing them in their tents & the trail was closed forcing trekkers back without the reward of getting to see it after their four day trip.
The Ancient Citadel itself was not damaged, mainly due to the excellent draining & building skills of the Incas. However the only access into Aguas Calientes the nearby village, is by train, & the tracks have now been washed away in many places & in other parts, the line has been buried deep under thousands of tons of mud & landslides.
The government were quick to launch a huge evacuation program using 10 helicopters & in a few days everyone was safely removed to Cusco, but it will be a long time before the ruins are open, or even able to receive any visitors again.
However the mighty PR power of Machu Picchu has rather taken over the news & pushed the REAL story into the back pages.
Many, many mountain villages in the provinces of Cusco, & Arequipa have damaged beyond belief, by floods, landslides & power of raging rivers.
Lucre, a popular village visited by the locals of Cusco at the weekends, & just 15 minuets down the road, was hit severely. The little stream flowing through the centre turned into a devastating torrent in seconds, washing cars into houses & demolishing them & whole streets of houses were simply washed away.
The water continued downward into the lakeside town of Huacarpay a further 2 minutes down the valley. Here the whole town was flooded & being made of adobe (mud & straw) they just about all collapsed or fell apart. The villagers scrambled to the higher ground above the village, where they still are living now in makeshift shelters & tents donated by the Cusco communities.
Another 5 minutes down the valley near the Urabamba river, was the village of Pinipampa. The Urabamba flooded over the banks & roared into the village that night inundating everything in its path. Two meters of water flowed in & even now a week after the first floods, the village is still has one & a half meters of water covering it.
The popular tourist destination of Pisac, a 2 minute ride over the mountain & popular for its huge Inca Terraces & markets, is now having problems too. The only bridge into town was washed away by the force of the Urabamba river, which for added impact also washed away the nearby police station too.
Further down the Sacred Valley it’s a similar story, Calca has 3,695 people affected by the floods, Urabamba has 2,290 affected, Parcatambo 1,590, Pauro 2,680…… and so the story continues.
The latest figures are shocking, with over 25,000 housed damaged & 80,000 people affected in the Cusco region alone.
The most amazing fact though is the resilience & community spirit of Peruvian People.
The very next day groups, companies & individuals were setting up donation sites & trucking aid down to those affected. You have to marvel at this, as the people doing the donating & helping do not earn a lot or even have much themselves – which is all very humbling.
We decided to do something about it too, and set about making a plan, together with my Peruvian friends & two friend who had only just returned from the Inca Trail themselves after it was closed while they were on it.
We all chipped in, buying 200 litres of drinks, a hundred or so tins of food, biscuits, candles & matches, toilet paper, fruit & lots of sweats for comfort food for the kids.
A local company Incargo which organises agricultural projects, donated their huge pickup & we set off to help.
First we visited Lucre which we all knew & loved from weekend visits.
A terrible site awaited us. The high street was all but washed away, & the street behind it was completely flattened. Families were sifting through the mud & debris with their bare hands trying to find any processions they had left. I shed many tears watching them get some small joy upon finding the odd plate or cup. – there was just nothing left really!
Mum was clutching on to a prized photograph completely covered in mud & her son was staring down at the roof where his room was, holding onto just one muddy toy in his hand - his only procession.
We helped a woman who had salvaged her cooker & had made some rice for her neighbours in the rubble & she eagerly added some tuna to the big pot, which must have made things a bit tastier than now cold, plain rice.
After giving out half our goodies to the people, we headed off to Pinipampa a bit farther down the valley. Depressingly, it was actually hard to find it as it was completely submerged under two metres of dirty brown water.
There was just a few roofs showing above the water & one had a family perched on top waiting for help still. The villagers had got three innertubes tied together & were using this to rescue the remaining people. We stopped here to give out the remaining food water & aid, but it was odd that not many people were about. After a few minutes though they started arriving, running along the side of the newly formed lake to reach us, as there was nothing much left, not even ways to walk round the mess.
I will never forget the sadness in their eyes mixed with the brief excitement of receiving some help.
The rebuilding is set to take a long long time, & its not helping that the rains are still relentless, which is only going to produce more misery with more landslides & floods bound to happen.
Please Help, b Visiting www.shelterbox.org A ask to donate some money to buy just a blanket, a cooker or a tent, When they get a box full it gets sent to Peru & will make the world of difference to this disaster.
30th January 2010