This Day in History | 1962 – Thousands killed in Peru landslide

At least 2,000 people are believed to have been killed after a massive avalanche of rocks and ice buried an entire mountain village and several settlements in north-west Peru.

Last night millions of tons of snow, rocks, mud and debris tumbled down the extinct volcano of Huascaran, Peru’s highest mountain in the Andes range.

The village of Ranrahirca and its inhabitants was totally destroyed along with eight other towns. The mayor Alfonso Caballero said only about 50 of its 500 inhabitants survived. “In eight minutes Ranrahirca was wiped off the map,” he said.

Relief efforts are being hampered by the very storms that started the devastating landslide, but there are believed to be few survivors.

Colonel Umberto Ampuera, head of emergency services, said the disaster was “like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.” He appealed to the Peruvian Government for aid to restore stricken communications and reach anyone who escaped the landslide.

Two Peruvian Air Force planes have carried relief supplies to the area and troops have been sent there to open up roads to Ranrahica and other areas cut off by the avalanche.

A massive wall of ice and rocks, about 12 meters high and 1km high, roared down the River Santa. The river rose by eight meters carrying with it everything in its path down the Rio Santa valley.

Bodies have been found at the port of Chimbote, 60 miles from the scene of the tragedy, where the river meets the sea.

The President of the Peruvian Red Cross, Roberto Thorndike, estimated between 2,000 and 2,500 people were killed. But local authorities believe the death toll is higher – between 3,000 and 4,000 people.

The region is prone to major avalanches at this time of year when glaciers melt and break off sliding through the “quebracas” (deep canyons) in the valley below.

U Thant, the acting United Nations Secretary General, has offered Peru aid to alleviate the situation.

In a telegram to President Manuel Prado he said representatives of the UN technical assistance board and the UN children’s fund would be ready to give any help required of them.

Courtesy BBC News

In context

It is estimated that about 4,000 people died in the avalanche but the final figure will never be known.

The 1962 avalanche that caused so much devastation in the Rio Santa Valley was eclipsed in 1970 by another massive landslide.

On 31 May a huge earthquake 25km from the town of Chimbote, on the north coast of Peru, triggered off Latin America’s biggest recorded landslide.

A wall of ice was dislodged from Mount Huascaran and in three minutes slid down a glacier and travelled another 10km to bury the town of Yungay.

The avalanche destroyed Ranrahirca all over again – about 20,000 people died and there were just 400 survivors.

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