Peru braces for disaster as mudslides destroy homes

People wade through water flooding the main access road to Lima following heavy rains in Chaclacayo, east of Lima, Peru on March 15, 2023. AFP

CHACLACAYO: Elvis Palomino’s house in Chaclacayo, situated in the eastern region of Peru’s capital, Lima, has succumbed to the relentless power of mudslides. Fearing for their own homes, locals are scrambling to protect themselves with sandbags against the incessant downpours that show no signs of abating.

As the river Rimac, whose Quechua translation means “talking river,” threatens to rise to dangerous levels, residents are bracing for the worst, having already witnessed several dozen fatalities caused by natural disasters in the area this year.

“It took my entire house, left me with nothing,” said Palomino, a 58-year-old security guard with four children who lives in a middle-class suburb of brick houses.

He barely managed to contain his tears as he stood looking at the only two walls left of what used to be his family home, destroyed by torrents of mud and stone, known locally as huaicos, that swept through Chaclacayo this week.

Three other homes nearby were also razed.

“It is not easy to accept this reality,” Palomino told AFP. “I do not wish this on anyone. I don’t have a bed, I don’t have a radio, all my stuff is gone.”

The clothing on his back was all he had left.

The rainy season that started in January and could last until April has left 50 dead and some 8,000 affected by damage countrywide, according to relief agencies.

Unusually intense this year, the downpours have seen rivers burst their banks and caused landslides in the Peruvian Andes.

‘Frightened’ of the river

In Chaclacayo, some 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) east of Lima, rivers of mud flooded the main highway, stranding hundreds of vehicles with cargo and passengers.

Ray La Rosa, a neighbor of Palomino, said that for him, “the most worrying thing is that we are without water and electricity because of the huaicos two days in a row.”

Nearby, 56-year-old Charo Matos was scooping water from her flooded house with a bucket, saying she was now “frightened” of the rising Rimac.

Authorities have set up a camp on dry ground with 15 tents to receive families evacuated from the banks of the river, as the meteorological office warned moderate to intense rains would persist until Friday.

The downpours were triggered by cyclone Yaku, a type of extreme event experts say are associated with the weather phenomenon El Nino, which warms the south Pacific and pummels the coasts of Peru and Ecuador with heavy rains.

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