These photos are from Emily and Kusi, two of my friends who live in Urubamba.
So this post diverges from Barcelona and takes you back to Urubamba, Peru, which desperately needs our help right now. For days now, the rains have been pouring down over the province of Cusco--67% in excess of normal levels, according to the weather service--completely flooding the region. These are said to be the worst rains in the area in 15 years, following the beginning of a wet season that was drier than normal. The government of Peru has declared that the province of Cusco is now a disaster area.
I remember how my family in Urubamba would comment that they were worried when it didn't start raining more frequently in November; then they were just worried about the fact that plants weren't getting the nutrition they needed, but now it's apparent that this left the soil dry and unable to soak up the water that begin its torrential downpour at the beginning of the weekend.
The destruction is terrible; 600 homes have been lost in Pisac, 100 in Urubamba, and at least 3,000 homeless in Ollantaytambo. The bridge over Pisac is destroyed. There is now only one bridge that goes to Cusco, and only light cars can pass over it for fear that it, too, will collapse. On the scale of all of Cusco, there are at least 13,000 people who have been affected by this flooding, 10 of them confirmed deaths, and more than 2,000 affected houses. Some 2,000 tourists are also stranded on Machu Picchu and in Aguas Calientes and are being rescued bit-by-bit by helicopters. The governor of Cusco province, Hugo Gonzales, estimated that the damages will cost at least $285 million.
The hardest part for me, however, is not simply the sheer mass of people who have been victim to mother nature's capricious temperament, but to see the pictures and know that this is happening in a place that I hold dear to my heart, a place I call home. My friends in Urubamba, all of whom, thankfully, are okay, told me that everything is even worse in Yucay than in Urubamba itself (Yucay is a town right next to Urubamba). I spent much of my time working on the stoves project in Yucay and I know all the little roads of that town like the back of my hand. Many of the houses we visited there were close to the river and it makes me incredibly sad to imagine those strong, welcoming, and kind people watch everything they know be washed away by the muddy, rain-swollen Río Vilcanota. I remember the day one woman proudly showed us her back yard, a little orchard with a gate that led you down a small slope towards the river. I can't bear to think that now that may be gone and she is one of many now living in tarp tents and hoping for help to come soon. My Peruvian stoves boss, Jaime, and his wife, Irma, were building a home in Yucay bit-by-bit, working on it during weekends and evenings off. I learned yesterday that it, too, was destroyed by the river. The streets I knew so well now covered by water, families wading through to try and save important belongings, then retreating again to higher ground, able only to watch as the flood takes its course and their house. I consider Urubamba my home, a part of who I am, and they say that everything is harder to bear when it hits closer to home.
There is some effort organized, at least, for the tourists who are trapped on Machu Picchu, as helicopters have been sent to lift them out. This aid, however, is not coming fast enough, as there are so many tourists still to rescue and their supplies of food and water are rapidly dwindling. The small towns of the Sacred Valley, the towns that I know so well, however, are still suffering and need help desperately. So far there seems not to be much international attention on the problems there, but we need to keep looking and bring the minds of the rest of the world to bear on Peru. Not just on the tourists, but on the people who have lost everything and are stranded, some even stranded from the market where they would go weekly for food, people now without potable water, close to losing power (if the water inundates the power lines any more, short-circuiting them or toppling them). Let's all please keep Peru in our thoughts and prayers and hope the rains stop so this whole mess can be figured out soon.
Sources and More Information:
Current as of 27 January 2010
El Comercio Perú (1)
El Comercio Perú (2)
La República Perú (video/photos)
BBC (readers' stories and pictures)
BBC (with video)
El País (Spain)
El País (Spain, photos of Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes)