Flash floods and landslides hit parts of Lima, leaving some communities cut off from roads Saturday, as others in Peru fled rising rivers, and millions fretted that they won’t have drinking water.
The government announced Saturday that so far this year 72 people have died as a result of heavy rains and flash floods around the country.
Peru‘s geographic extremes help fuel the often deadly force of the mudslides known locally as huaycos, the indigenous Quechua word for flash flood-landslide.
The South American nation of over 30 million has plenty of extremes: its Pacific coastal deserts in the west are interrupted by the soaring Andes, famed for the Inca people and Machu Picchu in the south. Further east, Peru has hot Amazon basin lowlands.
The tremendously steep mountains combine with many rocky and sandy areas that lack the topsoil found in more temperate places, meaning fewer trees are there to stop mudslides.
After weeks of heavy rain swept toward the coast late this week, many riverbeds in coastal areas went from empty to overflowing in no time.
In Lima, some residents on the outskirts of the capital of 10 million awoke Friday to realize their bedrooms were filling with water.
On Thursday and Friday, 10 people died in a landslide in the northern town of Otuzco. Seven of them were in trucks crushed by the huge flow of earth.
Others found themselves cut off by mudslides that blocked portions of the main highway linking Lima to the center of the country.
In one dramatic scene, rescuers used zip lines to help residents of Lima’s Huachipa neighborhood escape over the torrent of brown water that was once their street, as it swallowed up cars and trucks.
The floods have been triggered by the weather event known as El Nino, a warming of surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that wreaks havoc on weather patterns every few years.