Melting glacier triggers deadly flood at the foot of Machu Picchu
An avalanche from the heights of the Andes sent chaos far downstream in Peru.
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A glacial avalanche on a massive peak overlooking the famed ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru triggered mudslides and flooding earlier this week, killing at least three people in the community of Santa Teresa, below the enigmatic Incan citadel.
Peruvian government authorities said Wednesday that's what happened when a "mixed avalanche" made up of 400,000 cubic meters of mostly rock and some ice tumbled off of Salkantay and into Salkantaycocha Lake. The slide on Sunday displaced enough water in the lake to create waves that over-topped the natural moraine dam holding the lake back.
The water then rushed down the Salkantay River valley, churning up mud, rocks and debris on its way toward Santa Teresa, which is a popular alternate approach to Machu Picchu for backpackers.
Peru's disaster authority, Centro de Operaciones de Emergencia Nacional, originally reported that heavy rains caused the increased flow in the river. However, after experts from Inaigem -- or the National Research Institute on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems -- visited Salkantaycocha, it became clear the destabilized glacier was to blame.
COEN reports that the raging waters caused the collapse of 300 houses and that around 20 people are missing in addition to the three confirmed deaths. Nineteen international tourists were evacuated from the affected area, including five Americans and others from Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico and Brazil. Another 30 people were rescued and flown out from the disaster area, including a woman who had just given birth in the downstream town of Sahuayaco, which was also affected.
Despite the deadly aftermath, Inaigem reports that the outcome could have been much worse had the wave in the lake broken through the natural dam that restrains it, potentially allowing much of its 2 million cubic meters of water to rush downhill toward civilization.
The route to Machu Picchu via Santa Teresa is closed for the time being, while the train that approaches the site from the opposite direction remains unaffected. Some of the staff from the Machu Picchu National Archaeological Site have been dispatched to help with search and rescue operations.