Tourists in Peru rescued from Machu Picchu

About 400 Americans and 700 Argentines were among some 2,000 travelers stranded after mudslides cut off train service from Machu Picchu, the mountaintop Incan ruin. US authorities sent four helicopters to bolster rescue efforts.

Diario La Republica/Reuters
Tourists arrive in Cuzco, Peru, after being evacuated by rescue helicopters from Machu Picchu on Tuesday.

Helicopters ferried out 475 tourists stranded for two days near Peru’s famed Machu Picchu citadel after mudslides blocked a railway and killed a tourist and a tour guide. Authorities hoped to evacuate up to 800 more people Wednesday.

About 400 Americans and 700 Argentines were among the initial 2,000 travelers stranded, and US authorities sent four helicopters to bolster rescue efforts Tuesday.

The tourists were cut off in villages near Machu Picchu in the Andes mountains Sunday, when mudslides blocked the railway to the city of Cuzco, which is the only way in or out of the area.

People slept in Machu Picchu village’s train station and the central plaza after hostels ran out of space, while restaurants raised prices as food became scarce. Travelers “are angry and worried, and some are getting desperate,” Ruben Baldeon, the town spokesman, said Tuesday.

Cuzco government spokesman Hernet Moscoso said an Argentine identified as Lucia Ramallo, and a Peruvian guide, Washington Huaraya, were in their tents when a slope gave way and crushed them Tuesday.

The deaths raised to five the number of people killed by rain-triggered floods and landslides in the area, Mr. Moscoso said. The spectacular Incan ruins, perched on an Andean mountaintop, are Peru’s top tourist destination.

Three other tourists were injured on the Inca trail, a popular trek that follows a stone path built by the Incas to Machu Picchu.

Government and private helicopters flew out 475 tourists on Tuesday, Tourism Minister Martin Perez said.

“Tomorrow, if God helps us and the weather permits us, we should be able to get out 700 or 800 tourists in eight hours,” Perez said. The US helicopters — stationed in Peru for drug interdiction and police training — joined four Peruvian choppers in the rescue.

Rail operator Perurail also rented two helicopters to ferry in supplies and evacuate tourists, the company said in a statement.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the conditions in Peru as difficult. “We’ve moved some embassy personnel from Lima to the area as well to try to provide assistance to the Peruvian police and military authorities,” Crowley told reporters.

Five days of torrential rains in the Cuzco region have destroyed bridges, 250 houses and hundreds of acres (hectares) of crops. Perurail suspended train service Sunday.

Alberto Bisbal, disaster prevention director at Peru’s Civil Defense Institute, said Perurail and the government were working to clear rock and mud from the tracks, and service might be able to resume Wednesday.

The downpours stopped Tuesday morning, but meteorologists predicted light precipitation for the rest of the week.

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