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Peru’s president joins search for victims of deadly mudslide

February 20, 1997

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ President Alberto Fujimori placed a boy’s slack body in a coffin and watched rescue workers pull still more corpses from the earth _ victims of an Andean mudslide believed to have killed as many as 300 villagers.

Rescuers held out little hope of finding any survivors today and their efforts were slowed by continuing rains.

The disaster happened before dawn Tuesday when the side of a hill saturated by rains let loose and roared down onto two sleeping mountain villages in the district of Tamburco, southeast of the capital, Lima.

An estimated 250 to 300 people were buried in the mud, while only five people _ two children and three adults _ are believed to have survived, Fujimori said, adding, ``Two villages have almost completely vanished.″

The president, known for his steely demeanor, was clearly moved by the tragedy he saw when he flew to the Peruvian Andes site by helicopter Wednesday.

``I have just seen 3-year-old children with their bodies limp,″ he said.

Television footage showed dead men, women, and children trapped in the sea of mud that swept over the villages. Arms and legs of victims stuck out of the earth.

Homes, livestock, and crops also were swept away.

Rescue workers using picks, shovels, and crowbars had recovered 41 bodies by Wednesday evening. But scores more were still buried under the mud.

Villagers in Tamburco prepared funerals for the 41. Survivors awaited the arrival of much-needed aid, including food and medicine.

The Chilean government sent a shipment of tents, drinking water and other supplies to the disaster site. The Chilean Red Cross sent a shipment of clothing.

Miriam Monzon Carrion, a rescue nurse, said many of the bodies were mutilated when homes crashed down on them. Only two houses remained standing in the village of Ccocha (pronounced HOH-cha), she said.

Many families, trapped on high ground surrounded by the impassible muck, were forced to spend the night outside, wet and cold.

``We are losing lives instead of saving them,″ said Livia Huaman, a government official. Authorities have requested tents, food, blankets, drinking water, and first aid medicine for the villages.

About 250 people were evacuated because of the threat of other mudslides and up to 600 may be moved to safer areas, Health Minister Marino Costa Bauer said.

Chances of finding any more survivors two days after the mudslide were slim.

Tamburco also was the scene of a mudslide Sunday that killed five people and left 40 families homeless.

Heavy rain in the highlands from December through March frequently cause flooding and landslides.

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