Memories of the 76th anniversary of the glacial lake outburst of 1941

I n 1941, while Europe was suffering the deadliest military conflict in history in absolute terms of total casualties, Huaraz and the now called district of Independencia suffered its worst glacial lake outburst flood. According to very interesting and accurate investigations by archaeologist Steven Wegner, the glacial lake outburst of Lake Palcacocha released an estimated combined flood volume between eight and 12 million cubic meters of water. Within minutes it reached the city of Huaraz and erased much of the northern expansion district called Centenario.

As a result of the glacial lake outburst, a brand-new, two-story tourist hotel, built by the national government and just inaugurated five days before the flood was torn from its foundations and carried relatively intact for some distance before being smashed into the Santa River to the west. Other buildings that were partly or completely destroyed were the School of Arts and Trades, a Boys’ Vocational School, the National Women’s School, the Lawn Tennis Club, the slaughterhouse, various new chalets of wealthy families, and every bridge over the Santa River north of Huaraz.

The estimated death toll varies between 1,800 and 8,000 of whom 500 deadly victims were temporarily transferred to Belén Hospital and then taken to the cemetery for a mass burial in a mass grave. The damages reached towards the northern part of the city destroying all the bridges on the Santa River and also heavily damaged more than 80 kilometres of the railroad Huallanca-Chimbote.

In 2003, an avalanche of rocks and ice fell in Lake Palcacocha causing an overflow and damaged the dike. Since 2012, the Regional Government of Ancash has implemented a drain off system to lower the level and volume of water in the lagoon. However, a so much needed Early Warning System which could alarm the local population in time, has still not be installed. Earlier this year in January, authorities and officials of Huaraz, the district of Independencia and the Regional Government of Ancash, as well as Congressman Ricardo Narváez Soto, visited Lake Palcacocha with the purpose of establishing actions that allow providing the needed security to the population before a possible glacial lake outburst flood. However, till to date, nothing concrete has happened. In the meantime, local citizens can only pray that history won’t repeat itself.

Author: Juan Salazar Posada
Source: Nota Técnica 07 – Lo que el agua se llevo: Consecuencias y lecciones del aluvión de Huaraz de 1941 – Steven A. Wegner
Photo: Arnold Heim, 24. VI. 1947

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