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Peru evacuates 1 500 tourists after landslides

Peruvian authorities on Sunday helicoptered hundreds of stranded tourists away from the famed Machu Picchu Inca ruins after flash floods in the region that left one confirmed dead and 10 missing.

Peru’s civil defence organisation said about 500 tourists had been flown out of the area, after two mud- and rockslides early on Saturday hit Aguas Calientes, the town closest to the 600-year-old ruins, cutting off tourists.

Civil defence chief Juan Podesta said police helicopters on Saturday began transporting tourists to Ollantaytambo. From there buses ferried them back to Cusco.

On Sunday, buses drove as close to the Machu Picchu ruins as possible to collect other tourists. Tourists walked more than a kilometre to join the vehicles.

About 15 homes were destroyed by Saturday’s avalanches, which killed one person in Aguas Calientes. Authorities initially put the death toll at six, but then revised it down.

At least six people were injured. Three were taken to hospital in Cusco and a fourth is to be flown to Lima, officials said.

About 60 people were left homeless.

One of the landslides, which were caused by intense rains, destroyed railway tracks near Machu Picchu, trapping the tourists.

No tourists were among the dead, the official said.

A spokesperson for train company Peru Rail said repairs to the track had begun. She said the company was hoping to have a rail service available on Sunday.

President Alejandro Toledo, who had arrived in the nearby city of Cusco by helicopter, said on Saturday he was coordinating the rescue and clean-up efforts with civil defence authorities.

He lent his helicopter for the rescue effort and said he ordered military helicopters to take tourists out of the Inca ruins.

”I’m with the people of Aguas Calientes, seeing their anguish and sadness,” Toledo said.

A civil defence official said food, clothing and tools would be flown to the area.

Machu Picchu, a magnet for tourists the world over, is a 15th-century Inca stone city, perched atop a rocky ridge high in the Andes mountains, invisible from below and accessible only by bus from Aguas Calientes.

Archeologists believe the cloud-shrouded Machu Picchu ruins, with their palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and about 150 houses, were used by the Incas as a secret ceremonial city.

One of the marvels of the city is the architectural precision with which its structures were designed and built. Most of the buildings are of solid granite blocks, cut with bronze or stone tools and smoothed with sand.

The blocks fit together perfectly without traces of mortar, although none of the blocks are the same size and have multiple faces. The joints are so tight that even the thinnest of knife blades cannot be forced between the stones. — Sapa-AFP

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