Since we are stuck at the end of the high mountain valley, blocked from leaving by the local protests, (read more here), we decided to continue exploring some of the local areas.
When we heard about the town of Yungay, we were instantly drawn to it. On May 31, 1970 a debris avalanche caused by the 1970 Ancash earthquake buried the entire town of Yungay, killing 25,000 people.
The earthquake triggered half of the mountain of Nevado Huascarán to LITERALLY fall off. The mass of glacial ice, about 800 meters across, created more than 50 million cubic meters of debris. It slid approximately 10 miles downhill at speeds between 125 MPH to 250 MPH. WTF! It completely BURIED the town of Yungay.
Here is a photo of the mountain today. You can clearly see the ENORMOUS chunk that broke off and fell down into the valley below, wiping out an entire village. It was truly “half the mountain.” It was the worst catastrophic natural disaster ever recorded in the history of Peru.
The Peruvian government has forbidden excavation in the area where the old town of Yungay is buried, declaring it a national cemetery. The current town was rebuilt 1500 meters north of the destroyed city. The old town…. still buried.
This is the site we visited. It was an eerie, ghostly place — a giant grave buried under tons of earth and rock…
Knowing we were walking over the bodies of 25,000 people who were buried alive was both sad and spooky beyond words.
The earthquake struck on a Sunday afternoon and lasted 45 seconds. It destabilized the northern wall of Mount Huascarán, causing the avalanche of rock, ice and snow. It took an estimated 3 minutes to reach the village. The 25,000 people who were buried would have seen the wall of death coming down the mountain, and would have had nowhere to run. History indicates that most of the people would have run for the churches.
Below, a picture of a bus buried at the top of the debris pile.
Forty two years later, the bus debris pile still shows the tragedy…
Only 92 people survived this tragedy, most of whom were in the cemetery and stadium at the time of the earthquake. These zones were the highest in town.
Apparently running for ‘higher ground’ rather than towards a ‘higher power’ is more effective when a wall of earth is barreling towards you.
We just happened to visit on the 42nd anniversary of this tragedy, almost to the day. There were many visitors who lived through the nightmare. People who lost everything, and everyone.
Visiting a place like Yungay, you can’t help but be humbled. There’s no way to make sense of tragedy, to make meaningful this mortal coil. All we can do is accept what is and be grateful for our time together, alive on this planet.