975 more tourists rescued from Peru mudslides
Skies cleared over the fabled Machu Picchu citadel Thursday, speeding the rescue of stranded tourists, many of whom were left to eat from communal pots and sleep outdoors after weekend flooding and mudslides cut access to the area.
By nightfall, helicopters ferried 975 more people out of the remote village, the closest to the Inca ruins 8,000 feet up in the Andes mountains. Chief cabinet minister Javier Velasquez told Lima's RPP radio that only 600 tourists remained in town.
More than 2,000 travellers were trapped for days, straining supplies and testing travellers' patience. Helicopters flew out more than 1,000 tourists Tuesday and Wednesday.
Authorities barred any more hikers from walking the Inca Trail on Tuesday after mudslides from heavy rains killed two people on the trail. People who had started the hike already remained on the trail and are expected to arrive in the coming days. The trail takes about four days to traverse.
"It's worrisome. We didn't think it would take this long," Tourism Minister Martin Perez told RPP radio Wednesday. "We can evacuate 120 tourists per hour; now the only thing we need is for the climate to help us out a little bit."
Downpours let up on Wednesday, but forecasters called for moderate rain the rest of the week.
Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said 1,500 to 1,600 tourists remain stranded with more arriving.
"Everyone is safe, though obviously uncomfortable. They are sleeping in tents, and the food gets there late, but what's important is that they are safe," he said.
Stranded travellers have complained of price gouging because of scarce food, water and accommodations in Machu Picchu Pueblo, a village of 4,000 near the citadel.
Ruben Baldeon, a town spokesman in Machu Picchu Pueblo, said bottles of water were selling for $3.50 — five times the typical price — and electricity to the town had been cut.
Five days of torrential rains in the region centred on the town of Cuzco have destroyed bridges, some 250 houses and hundreds of hectares of crops.
With files from The Associated Press