Saturday, May 31, 2008

Remembering the Ancash Earthquake of 1970


On the afternoon of Sunday, May 31, 1970, a 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Central Peru. Within minutes, tens of thousands were killed and several million left homeless.

The Ancash earthquake killed more than 66,000 people and left more than 150,000 injured. Half-a-million people were left homeless and at least 4 million Peruvians were affected by the devastation.

The area near the Central highland town of Huaraz was hardest hit. Today this city of 100,000 is the center for the booming tourist trade in Central Peru – a crossroads for hikers and a camper exploring the country’s famed Cordella Blanca.

But the disaster that struck here almost three decades ago is still vividly remembered. In 2000, Peru designated May 31 as Natural Disaster Education and Reflection Day, in memory of the deadliest seismic disaster in the history of Latin America.

The quake struck at 3:23 p.m. and in the following 45 seconds shook an area larger than Belgium and the Netherlands combined. The impact of the temblor was massive across the country but nowhere was its devastation felt more than in the Andean valley known as the Callejón de Huaylas.

The earthquake caused a massive avalanche on the northern slope of Mount Huascarán. A huge mass of glacial ice and rock about 3,000 feet wide and one mile long slid down the valley at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Within five minutes the towns of towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca were simply covered in more than 80 million cubic meters of material.

In Yungay, more than 25,000 people perished. Only about 100 people survived simply because they happened to be at various spots outside of the landslide’s reach. After the disaster the Peruvian government forbade any excavation in the area, declaring it a national cemetery.

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