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The 1970 Ancash earthquake or Great Peruvian Earthquake was an undersea earthquake that occurred on May 31 of that year. Combined with a resultant landslide, it was the worst catastrophic natural disaster ever recorded in the history of Peru.

The earthquake affected the Peruvianmarker regions of Ancashmarker and La Libertadmarker. The epicenter of the earthquake was located 35 km off the coast of Casmamarker and Chimbotemarker on the Pacific Oceanmarker, where the Nazca Plate is being subducted by the South American Plate. It had a magnitude of 7.9 to 8.0 on the Richter scale and an intensity of up to 8 on the Mercalli scale.

The earthquake struck on a Sunday afternoon at 15:23:31 local time (20:23:31 UTC) and lasted 45 seconds. The quake destabilized the northern wall of Mount Huascaránmarker, causing a rock, ice and snow avalanche and burying the towns of Yungaymarker and Ranrahirca. The avalanche started as a sliding mass of glacial ice and rock about wide and one mile (1.6 km) long. It advanced about to the village of Yungay at an average speed of more than 100 miles per hour. The fast-moving mass picked up glacial deposits and by the time it reached Yungay, it is estimated to have consisted of about 80 million cubic meters (61,000,000 m³) of water, mud, and rocks.

Casualties and damage

The reported death toll from the earthquake and avalanche totalled 74,194 people, although some estimates place it as high as 80,000. About 25,600 went missing and 143,331 were injured. Over 1,000,000 people were left homeless and other 3,000,000 were affected. In Yungay, 20,000 people died due to the landslide, and only 400 survived. Survivors included people who were at high points of the town, such as the cemetery, as well as 300 children attending a circus at the local stadium.

The earthquake affected an area of about 83,000 km², an area larger than Belgiummarker and the Netherlandsmarker combined, in the north central coast and the Sierra (highlands) of the Ancash Regionmarker and southern La Libertad Regionmarker. Reports of damage and casualties from Tumbes to Pisco and Iquitosmarker in the east. Damage and panic scenes were reported in some parts of Ecuadormarker. Tremors were felt too in western and central Brazilmarker.

It was a system-wide disaster, impacting such a widespread area that the regional infrastructure of communications, commerce, and transportation was destroyed. Economic losses surpassed half a billion US dollars. Cities, towns, peasant villages as well as the homes, industries, public buildings, schools, electrical, water, sanitary, and communications facilities on them were seriously damaged or destroyed.

Areas hard hit were the coastal towns and cities of Chimbotemarker (the largest city in Ancash), Casmamarker, Supe, and Huarmeymarker; but the Andean valley known as the Callejón de Huaylas suffered the most intense and sweeping damage, with the regional capital, Huarazmarker, as well as Carazmarker and Aija being partially destroyed. Trujillomarker, the nation's third largest city, and Huarmeymarker suffered minor damages.

In Chimbote, Carhuazmarker and Recuay, about 80% to 90% of buildings were destroyed, affecting about 3 million people.

The Pan-American highway was also damaged, which made the arrival of humanitarian aid difficult. The Cañón del Pato hydroelectricity generator was damaged by the Santa River and the railway connecting Chimbote with the Santa Valley was left unusable on 60% of its route.

The Peruvian government has forbidden excavation in the area where the town of Yungaymarker is buried, declaring it a national cemetery. The children who survived in the oca stadium were resettled around the world. In 2000, the tragedy inspired the government to declare May 31 as Natural Disaster Education and Reflection Day, in memory of the deadliest seismic disaster in the history of Latin America.

Every May 31, many schools of Peru practice an Earthquake drill in order to commemorate this disaster.

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