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S P E C I A L El Niño Returns

Mudslide in Peru the latest El Niño disaster

map February 28, 1998
Web posted at: 8:31 p.m. EST (0131 GMT)

CUZCO, Peru (CNN) -- Workers digging a canal to divert water from a river swollen with El Niño rains were lucky to escape with their lives after a mudslide swept through their work site, authorities said Saturday.

Police had feared the workers were killed by the massive wall of mud and boulders triggered by heavy El Niño-driven rains that hit their work site in the Aobamba valley Friday. They escaped by scrambling up a hillside just before the mudslide, authorities said.

The mudslide was the latest El Niño-related disaster to strike the country. The weather phenomenon has brought unusually heavy rains to the country, causing floods and mudslides.

Floods have hit the capital, Lima, and other cities. More than 200 people have been killed and 250,000 driven from their homes.

The British charity Christian Aid launched a global appeal last week to raise money for victims of El Niño in poorer countries. Peru is one of the countries the charity is targeting because of the severity with which El Niño has hit the country.

Ica, a city south of Lima, is usually dry with water in short supply, but is now flooded. Water supplies are contaminated and fresh amounts have to be trucked in. The government is spraying the area to prevent the spread of disease.

Some 200 cases of cholera have been reported in Ica and more are expected.

Flooding destroys bridges. cuts off power

In Friday's mudslide, heavy rains blocked relief workers from flying immediately with supplies for the site, which is about 76 miles (122 kilometers) north of Cuzco.

The mudslide also blocked the Vilcanota River, creating a temporary dam. Water collected behind it and then surged over it, causing huge floods in the Aobamba valley. Villagers in the area were able to evacuate to higher ground before the flooding occurred.

The floods destroyed bridges and caused the collapse of a hydroelectric dam, cutting off the power supply to the area. The main hydroelectric plant in Cuzco was under 198 feet (60 meters) of water.

The floods occurred near but remained well below one of Peru's most famous tourist sites, the Machu Picchu Inca ruins.

And El Niño shows no signs of letting up. Weather officials say more rain is on the way for Peru.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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