Mudslide kills six at lost city of the Incas

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The Independent US

A mudslide killed at least six people in a tourist town near Peru's chief tourist attraction, the Inca city of Machu Picchu, on Saturday. Five others were missing and feared dead, officials said.

A mudslide killed at least six people in a tourist town near Peru's chief tourist attraction, the Inca city of Machu Picchu, on Saturday. Five others were missing and feared dead, officials said.

A second landslide buried the railway line - the only access route to the town of Aguas Calientes - hampering rescue operations. Some 1,500 tourists were among those stranded in the town but none was reported as injured or missing.

The Inca temple complex is South America's most recognisable, alluring and profitable tourist icon, and generates income worth as much as 4 per cent of Peru's GDP. It draws 500,000 foreign visitors each year.

Saturday's disaster could prove as economically catastrophic as the 1980's campaign of violence against tourists that was undertaken by the Maoist guerrillas of Sendero Luminoso - the Shining Path.

Most visitors to Machu Picchu arrive from the city of Cuzco by rail. The terrain in this part of the Andes is extremely difficult, which is why Machu Picchu was concealed from the world until Hiram Bingham led an expedition from Yale in 1911.

Unless the line from Cuzco is repaired promptly, Machu Picchu will be off-limits to all except those able to pay for helicopter transfers, and Peru's tourist industry will suffer greatly.

Amazingly, Peru's President, Alejendro Toledo was at Machu Picchu, 310 miles southeast of the capital, Lima, when the landslide struck as a result of heavy rains. He was in the area over the Easter holiday, acting as a tour guide for US cable station Discovery Travel Channel for a special programme on Peru.

"I have given urgent instructions to repair the rail line to re-establish transit," President Toledo said. "I know that we cannot give back life but we will do everything at least to recover the bodies."

No foreigners were believed to be injured in the pre-dawn landslide that fell into the Alcamayo River, which flows past Aguas Calientes, but 1,500 tourists were stranded, according to the train company Peru Rail.

The disaster's effect on tourism was clearly foremost in the President's mind on Saturday. He said he had given orders to send government helicopters to bring the visitors back to Cuzco. "The tourists can rest assured that I will provide them with the helicopters," Toldeo said.

Thousands of local people, mainly poor descendants of the Incas, depend on tourism for their livelihood. When the Shining Path threat was curtailed, travel to Machu Picchu revived. But with earnings already hit by a decline in visitors from the US, this disaster could prove devastating to the local economy.

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