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Airlifted from Machu Picchu

Posted by Roxanna Samii Saturday, January 30, 2010

Remember Elizabeth from Claus' blogpost? Well, after finishing their extraordinary Learning Route experience, Elizabeth and Maria decided to visit the marvelous Machu Picchu over the weekend.

As you may remember, last week heavy rains triggered massive landslides causing the railway between Machu Picchu and Cuzco to be blocked. Elizabeth and Maria were two of the many blocked because of the landslide. On Thursday, when they were finally evacuated, Elizabeth sent this message:

"Just a few lines to let you all know that we have just arrived to Cusco. It's nearly 21.00. Both Maria and myself are safe. It has been an incredible experience. The evacuation only started on Monday afternoon and we have been going every day to the station where people had to gather for the evacuation. Priority was given to sick and elderly people, pregnant women and people with young children.

Today we went very early to the station but no sign of helicopters until 13.00 pm because of the weather conditions and other factors (fuel, etc) and also because the whole region is affected by landslides and flooding. Our colleagues from UNDP and UNIDO have been working as volunteers for the last three days and have been in contact with UNDSS. Colleagues from UNDSS (Lima) have been in touch with us daily to make sure that we were okay. They spoke with the "coronel" of the army to indicate that there were four UN officers in the area to see whether they could accelerate our evacuation. We thought we could not make it today since there are still hundreds of people blocked. Food started being scarce since everything comes from outside. At around 5.00 pm we got signals from our UNDP/UNIDO colleagues to move fast and get to the queue. We moved together with another 15-18 people and Peruvian soldiers to the ground field where the helicopter was awaiting. We crossed a long path in the middle of a thick forest (sort of jungle) while local people were bringing basic food supplies from the helicoper to the station. It was unreal. I thought it was like a Rambo film with Silvester Stallone.

I got a bit emotional thinking about all those who were still left behind. I hope they can accelerate the evacuation plans to get them out soon. Local people are also quite concerned because the river is getting very close to the houses and some areas have been evacuated. Others are concerned because it will take a couple of months (at least) until they will be in a position to repair the railway since the water is covering certain paths. All the food is brought by train since there is no land suitable for agriculture. The area is surrounded by high and rocky mountains.

The flight by helicopter was incredible but God was on our side and we all arrived safely to a small village where a bus was waiting for us to bring us to Cusco. If we manage to change the flights tomorrow we would like to go to Lima and then take the flight to Rome. Let's see whether we succeed since there have been many flight cancellations these days and the situation is very critical in this area.

Thanks to all of you for your concern. I will keep in touch."

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