Huaraz remembers the devastating earthquake of 1970

O n May 31st in 1970, it was like a normal afternoon in the cities of Huaraz, Yungay, Chimbote and Casma, when at approximately 3:25 p.m. the earth started to shake violently and everything began to collapse. According to figures from the National Institute of Civil Defense, it concerned the most violent earthquake in the history of Peru. The epicenter was located on the coast of Ancash, which destroyed more than 60% of the houses and left about 80,000 dead and 200,000 people missing.

The city of Huaraz got destroyed for 97% and the Plaza de Armas was the only important thing that was not destroyed. After the violent earthquake the city was obscured by a black cloak of dust and about 10,000 people died. In the public college Santa Elena 400 people died. In Yungay a block of rock and ice broke free from the north side of Huascarán, causing an avalanche that released over three million tons of mud, rock and ice from an almost vertical drop of over 3000 meters, and generating a speed of 320 km per hour. It took this rock slide just three minute to raze the town of Ranrahirca and the city of Yungay. Only a small group of people who had run to the cemetery located on a nearby hill, and a group of children attending a matinee at Verolina circus survived. All the mud and stones that fell was contained in the Cordillera Negra generating a dam on the Santa River, affecting the Canyon del Pato hydroelectric station at Huallanca, located some kilometers farther north, which stopped working leaving the area without electricity. After the earthquake and the mudslide, only four trees remained standing where the main square used to be. The statue of Christ on the hill of the cemetery was a silent witness to what happened that tragic afternoon.

Thanks to international aid people affected by the earthquake received food and shelter. The government created a national entity for emergency response – nowadays known as INDECI. Search and rescue continued for several days, with the recovered bodies being buried in mass graves. Many families migrated to other cities so their children could continue studying.

The Peruvian government declared Yungay a national cemetery and a monument has been built to remember the deceased. The palm trees of the plaza of Yungay´s original centre, bits of wall and part of the cathedral and the crumpled remains of a bus can still be seen during the tour to the Llanganuco Lakes. The town is now a graveyard and a monument to Peru´s worst human tragedy. Forty seven years have gone by; however, Yungay is still towered over by Peru´s biggest mountain the Huascarán. Let´s just hope that history will not repeat itself.

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