28 Jan 2010

Contact made with most NZ tourists trapped in Peru

6:15 pm on 28 January 2010

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been in contact with most of the 29 New Zealanders trapped after mudslides and flooding killed five people and cut access to the historic ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Some 2000 tourists became trapped at the World Heritage site in the jungle in eastern Peru after the heaviest rains in the area in 15 years flooded the zone over the weekend.

Most of the New Zealanders have been contacted by MFAT, or have told friends and family they are safe and are waiting to be evacuated from in or near the tourist areas of Machu Picchu and the village of Aguas Calientes.

MFAT spokesperson Dave Courtney said on Thursday that Peru Rail have advised that they hope to evacuate at least 1000 people during the day, weather permitting. They are also providing meals to 1200 tourists and local people.

Mr Courtney says the airline LAN Peru will put on two additional flights daily between Cusco and Lima so evacuees can get away from the area.

Ian Falconer, whose brother-in-law Mike Chisholm is trapped in Peru, said on Thursday that his relative is waiting to be taken out by helicopter but cloudy conditions have prevented their rescue.

Deaths, houses washed away

An Argentine tourist and a Peruvian guide were killed in separate mudslides, while two other deaths were reported over the weekend, following the torrential rain. A fifth person was killed when a hillside collapsed.

Prime Minister Javier Velasquez said about 250 homes were washed away, as well as bridges and parts of several highways.

Peru's Trade and Tourism Minister Martin Perez said the government was sending 10 helicopters to help in aid efforts but their arrival would depend on the weather.

The operation to airlift foreigners out of the disaster zone had to be suspended on Tuesday due to heavy rain. A guide at Machu Picchu told Reuters the rescue effort was badly organised.

Tourist Julie Nemsich, from Sydney, told the ABC that local authorities are refusing to allow Argentinian helicopters to land, while Peruvian helicopters were taking people who had paid.

The Inca ruins are one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Latin America.