More blizzards set to add to death toll in Peru

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The Independent US

Peruvians are bracing themselves for a second cold front today, after a first wave of blizzards killed at least 60 people in eight south-eastern provinces and left Andean pastures littered with the carcasses of up to 80,000 frozen llamas, alpacas and vicuñas.

Peruvians are bracing themselves for a second cold front today, after a first wave of blizzards killed at least 60 people in eight south-eastern provinces and left Andean pastures littered with the carcasses of up to 80,000 frozen llamas, alpacas and vicuñas.

Snow-blocked roads and black ice have hampered government rescue efforts, and a new weather front is expected to dump more snow and hail on isolated communities just as emergency medicine, blankets and food supplies are on their way. President Alejandro Toledo, who toured the region this week, called for more international aid after declaring a state of emergency in Puno, Arequipa, Cusco, Apurimac, Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Junin and Pasco provinces.

More than 70,000 people were left homeless by the severe weather last week as temperatures plunged to minus 12C (minus 10F) – the coldest in a decade. Fierce winds at extreme altitude limit the use of helicopters and military aircraft, which means emergency squadrons have to hike in with supplies.

Young children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia, said Clotilde Villena, the head of Peru's Red Cross, who is setting up three field hospitals to cope with unprecedented numbers of severe respiratory complaints. Most fatalities have been small children with hypothermia. Villagers who have struggled to the treatment centres are being shown how to smear ash around their eyes to lessen the effects of snow blindness on the return trip. The Civil Defence Department has sent 152 tons of humanitarian aid, but more is urgently needed.

Raul Diez Canseco, the Vice-President, said: "What there is there is not poverty, it's extreme misery."

Up to 20 per cent of Peru's herd animals are expected to perish. An estimated three million alpacas, a million llamas, 140,000 vicuñas and 4,000 guanacos – all distant relatives of the camel – provide milk, meat, hides and wool.

The alpacas, which typically graze above 4,000 metres, are likely to be hardest hit, the authorities say. About 90 per cent of the animals, prized for their soft wool and low-fat meat, are raised by subsistence farmers who depend on them for their livelihood and transport.

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