SECOCHA, Peru ( Associated Press) — Five villages in southern Peru were left under rubble after landslides triggered by incessant rains on Sunday and Monday left mud, water and rocks inundated and an area devoted to informal gold mining precarious. Facilities and houses were destroyed.
Residents of the municipality of Mariano Nicolás Valcarcel, on the slopes of a mining extraction zone eroded by the activity, searched for their belongings buried in the mud on Tuesday.
A local civil defense official reported a day earlier that at least 36 people had been killed, although a prosecutor told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had only confirmed 12 dead and three missing. The federal government has not released any new figures, although the president was visiting the area to view the disaster and get the latest reports.
The avalanche that came down from the highest mountains on Sunday swept away houses and everything in its path. Residents could only scream and wail as the thick torrent of brown water and mud sloshed downstream.
“We are isolated,” Arturo Muñoz, who lives in the heights of the town of La Eugenia, where the avalanche began on Sunday, told The Associated Press by phone on Tuesday. The affected mining towns are in the Mariano Nicolás Valcarcel municipality in the Cumana province of the Arequipa region.
Rescue operations could not yet be deployed on Tuesday due to the difficulty of accessing the area with relevant machinery, as reported by the local head of civil protection.
Sikocha, the main road to other settlements, was still covered on Tuesday with a muddy mass that had seeped through doors and windows. On that street, which is called Los Angeles, some cleaned kitchens, refrigerators and TVs that worked without problems at restaurants, hotels, clothing or food stores until the weekend.
The prosecutor in charge of the incident, Luis Supo, revised the death toll released on Monday after 36 bodies had been recovered in the remote village of Posko Miski. The recount was announced before the local RPP radio station by Wilson Gutierrez, civil defense officer of Mariano Nicolás Valcarcel Municipality.
However, prosecutor Supo assured that as of Tuesday they had found only 12 bodies rescued from the avalanche and three others were missing.
Civil Defense also indicated on Monday that the avalanches affected bridges, intakes, irrigation canals, roads and houses, and about 630 houses were rendered unusable. The impact of the landslide in the five affected villages was due to the fact that it is a descending area of about 48 kilometers in which miners have been installed for two decades to extract gold from the adit.
Peru receives frequent rains in February, a time when rain tends to cause avalanches that affect homes, but also public infrastructure including bridges and roads.