March 19

This Day in History

Disaster

Mar 19, 1971:

Peruvian town wiped out

On this day in 1971, an earthquake sets off a series of calamities—a landslide, flood and avalanche--that results in the destruction of the town of Chungar, Peru, and the death of 600 of its inhabitants.

Chungar was a mining camp in the Andes Mountains, where workers and their families lived while exploiting a nearby mine. The camp was 55 miles north of Lima and sat some 10,000 feet above sea level, yet still thousands of feet below some nearby peaks. On March 19, a small earthquake centered in the Andes Mountains prompted a landslide along the slopes of a mountain near Chungar. The landslide caused a massive amount of dirt and water to plunge into a lake that sat above Chungar. The displaced water from the lake flooded down the hillside toward Chungar, triggering an avalanche of snow, mud and rock along the way.

Within seconds, water, snow, rocks and mud swallowed Chungar and its people. A handful of survivors went for help, but the road to and from Chungar had been wiped out and it took them 8 hours to reach the nearest town on foot. Rescuers from Lima, Cerro de Pasco and Canta had to traverse a 13,000-foot mountain pass to reach the site; by the time they arrived, there was little that could be done to pull anyone out alive.

Only a year earlier, Peru had suffered a similar disaster when two towns were buried by a landslide at Mount Huascaran, also in the Andes Mountains.

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