SECOCHA, Peru (AP) – Residents of five small mining villages in southern Peru’s Arequipa region scrambled to save their belongings Tuesday after landslides triggered by heavy rains killed at least 12 people and swept away mud, water and rocks that made homes unsafe and other buildings in ruins.
In the municipality of Mariano Nicolás Valcárcel, on the edge of a depleted mining area in the province of Camana, people searched desperately for whatever they could salvage in the mud.
One of them was Mauro Noa, a community leader in the village of Posco Miski who is trying to reach local leaders to get first aid and food to help more than 1,000 of his neighbors who have been stuck on the side of the mountain since Sunday and are unable to leave due to accumulation of mud and stones.
“They are hungry and thirsty,” Noah said. “No one thinks about them.”
Noah said it was the first time in 18 years he had seen a landslide of this size, and neighbors compiled a list of 14 Posco Miski residents whose whereabouts are unknown. “Neighbors who couldn’t leave their houses were caught in a wave of mud,” Noah said. “The children were left traumatized by the rain and landslide.”
Police sent 15 rescuers to the area and were expected to arrive in Secoch by late afternoon because the road was blocked by mud, police officer Giancarlo Vizcarra said.
Vizcarra said that upon arrival in Secoch, rescuers will try to reach the most remote villages to search for bodies that may be buried under the mud with the help of two dogs trained to search for people after the earthquake.
A local Civil Defense official said on Monday that at least 36 people had died in the landslides, but on Tuesday a prosecutor told The Associated Press that they had confirmed only 12 deaths and three people were missing.
Landslides have destroyed key access roads to remote villages, making it difficult to determine the death toll. Peru’s government has yet to release any official figures, although the president traveled to the affected area on Tuesday.
The slides that started on Sunday and continued on Monday from the highest mountains in the area destroyed everything in their path.
The people were helpless and could only watch as mud and stones washed away their homes in the five villages where the miners have been living for two decades.
Dramatic video from the region shows people covered in mud being pulled out of the mud.
Many people slept outside for fear that there might be more slides.
“We are isolated,” Arturo Munoz, who lives in La Eugenia, where the landslides began Sunday, told The Associated Press by phone.
The full extent of the damage remained unknown as rescue workers were unable to bring heavy machinery to the area.
The main road in the small village of Secocha was covered in muddy sludge that seemed to be everywhere and seeping through the doors and windows. Residents worked feverishly to clean mud from their belongings, including kitchens, refrigerators and televisions.
The prosecutor in charge of the incident, Luis Supo, reported on Tuesday that the death toll was lower. A day earlier, Wilson Gutiérrez, a civil defense official from the municipality of Mariano Nicolás Valcárcel, told local media that 36 bodies had been found in the remote village of Posco Miski.
Supo said that by Tuesday, authorities had received the remains of only 12 people.
Officials said on Monday that landslides also affected bridges, irrigation canals and roads. About 630 homes are no longer usable, officials said.
Heavy rains are common in Peru in February and sometimes help trigger landslides.
Associated Press writer Franklin Briceño in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.