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Huge Avalanche Buries Peru Town

January 15, 1998

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ A massive avalanche of mud and rocks rushed down the side of a mountain in Peru’s Andean highlands, burying a town and killing more than a dozen people, according to reports Thursday.

The avalanche began when a mountain lagoon burst its banks Tuesday night, sending tons of water and mud down on the village of Santa Teresa, 310 miles southeast of Lima.

The avalanche ``wiped Santa Teresa off the map,″ said the mayor, Calixto Sanchez.

Santa Teresa is located 12 miles from the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru’s top tourist attraction, but the avalanche did not damage the train from the city of Cuzco to Machu Picchu.

Reports of the death toll varied. President Alberto Fujimori toured the devastated town Thursday and said two people were confirmed dead and 11 were missing.

However, a local congressman, Rigoberto Ezquerra, said rescue workers searching through mud and floodwaters have found 15 bodies so far. And some local newspapers, citing unidentified sources, reported as many as 150 people missing.

The mud and rocks obliterated houses, a bank and the police station, Ezquerra said, and dragged away 90 percent of a section called Old Santa Teresa.

Residents heard a loud noise and felt a shaking 10 minutes before the avalanche, and most of town’s 2,500 residents managed to flee to higher ground, survivor Zuli Portillo said in a radio broadcast.

``We are abandoned here on this hilltop. We have nothing, only the clothes on our backs,″ Portillo said.

Authorities began flying in food and blankets by helicopter on Wednesday night, but Ezquerra said residents desperately need more medicine, clothes and drinking water.

Poisonous snakes and spiders that fled the flooded lowland jungle in search of high ground are trapped on hilltops along with the town’s residents, he said.

Update hourly