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Funeral held for 41 victims recovered from Peruvian mudslide

February 21, 1997

CUZCO, Peru (AP) _ Forty-one victims pulled from an Andean mudslide were buried in a common grave, and rescuers feared today that as many as 300 others were trapped under a river of mud.

Rains slowed the grisly rescue work and caused another small mudslide Thursday, sweeping away three homes that had been evacuated after the first slide Tuesday, said Zacarias Ochoa, a local fire department official.

As many as 300 people are believed to have died Tuesday when the side of a hill, saturated by rain, gave way and roared down onto two sleeping villages in the district of Tamburco, about 300 miles southeast of Lima. Homes, livestock and crops were also swept away.

Miriam Monzon Carrion, a nurse, said many people were crushed beneath the weight of their homes.

Forty-three bodies have been recovered. A funeral was held for 41 of them Thursday and a Roman Catholic priest said Mass before they were buried in a common grave.

Authorities said the chances of finding survivors were slim.

``We are going to recover as many bodies as possible, but it will be impossible to recover them all″ from the 45-foot-deep mass of mud, said Carlos Valencia, president of the Inca Region that includes the disaster zone.

``The disaster area will become a cemetery,″ he said from Cuzco, 375 miles southeast of Lima.

Hundreds of people were evacuated to a neighboring town Thursday. Many had spent the first, cold night trapped on a hillside surrounded by the muck.

``The families are desperate to find the bodies,″ the Rev. Tomas Garcia said in a radio interview from the disaster zone.

Government workers vaccinated villagers against tetanus and other diseases amid fears that large numbers of bodies could provoke epidemics.

Survivors awaited the arrival of much-needed food and medicine. A Chilean air force plane arrived in Peru on Thursday with a shipment of tents, clothing, cots, bedding, disposable diapers and drinking water.

Japan sent tents and 1,700 blankets and $100,000 in cash for the rescue effort.

During the dry season, the region is reachable from Cuzco by a 10-hour drive over dirt roads. But the roads have been washed out.

Heavy rainfall in the highlands from December through March frequently causes flooding and landslides.

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