Today Peru remembers the 40th anniversary of the massive 8.0 Richter scale earthquake and avalanche that buried the Andean towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca, in the region of Ancash, killing an estimated 70,000 people.
A pilgrimage to place flower wreaths at the General Cemetery of Huaraz today will close the homages paid these days to those who died in that earthquake, reports the Municipality of Huaraz.
The Ancash earthquake is one of the deadliest in Peru’s history, and is currently considered as the second deadliest in Latin America.
Despite its epicenter being located in the sea, near Chimbote, in an area where the Nazca Plate is being subducted by the South American Plate, the earthquake had that massive death toll due to the avalanche and to the fact that most of the houses destroyed were built in the traditional way, with adobe bricks.
The earthquake broke huge ice walls at the Huascarán peak, causing a massive rock, ice and snow avalanche that fell over the towns at an average speed of 280 to 335 km per hour.
Only in Yungay, more than 20,000 people died, and only 400 people survived, mostly children who were attending a circus at the local stadium.
One of these survivors, Almaquio Ortega, now 53 years old, recalls; “I was at the circus with my sisters: oddly, my parents stayed home. The show had not started yet when the earthquake happened. We heard adults shouting ‘avalanche!’ and we all started to run towards Atma hill: while we we running, we saw how the avalanche covered the stadium where the circus was.”
Current Yungay Mayor, Cico Alamo Figueroa, also remembers that day: “I was out of the town. Then the earthquake started. I saw the avalanche falling from the Huascaran, and then everyone started to run,” he says, and continues: “Huge rocks seemed to fly in the air, bumping with each other. We needed to be aware and try to avoid the impact of the rocks while we ran.”
Once the avalanche ended, Yungay had completely dissapeared from sight.
"All we could see was a plain with four little palm tress, located where the Main Square used to be,” he remembers.
Former President Juan Velasco Alvarado created a reconstruction committee, and Yungay was founded again, about 1.5 kilometers away from the buried town. The new city is still the capital of the same province. It was first inhabited by farmers from higher villages, who had lost everything they used to own.
Former Yungay was declared a national cemetery, and the Peruvian government has forbidden any attempt to excavate the area.
In 2000, the Peruvian government declared May 31 as Natural Disaster Education and Reflection Day.
(Video: Frecuencia Latina)
Have news you’d like to see in LivinginPeru.com? Contribute an article, whether it’s translated or based on your own reporting. Contact email@example.com.