PERU, Mar 21 – Stranded on their rooftops by flooding and mudslides, residents of Huarmey, Peru ironically need the one thing they see everywhere they look: water.
As AFP toured the waist-deep rivers of mud that were once Huarmey’s streets, people in the small coastal city shouted from their rooftops, “Water, we want water!”
Last Wednesday, the rain that has been pummeling Peru for a week sent a series of mudslides barreling down the hillsides of the Andes mountains and into the city.
The avalanches of mud, which Peruvians call “huaycos,” poured into the city and the Huarmey river, causing it to spill its banks.
“It started with a little bit of river water coming in. Then, boom, the water attacked us. We couldn’t do anything. All my things were buried,” Paulina Farromeque shouted from her rooftop on Alberto Reyes avenue.
Just down the street is the police station, or what can be seen of it.
The first floor is blocked by a bog of mud that has buried a patrol car up to the roof.
Officers work as best they can from the building’s second story.
Elsewhere residents attempt to stagger through the mud — a dirty, slippery business. Where no ropes have been put up to cling to, people often fall into the muck.
“You have to cling to walls, to fences, to walk along the edges to avoid sinking in,” said Eugenio Huertas, a local man who says he has refined the technique over the past four days.
Similar scenes have played out in cities up and down the Peruvian coast this week, including some neighborhoods in the capital Lima, 300 kilometers (185 miles) to the south.
Peru has been battered this year by a series of storms and catastrophes caused by El Nino, a warming of Pacific Ocean surface temperatures that wreaks havoc on weather patterns every few years.
Since January, 75 people have died in natural disasters triggered by the phenomenon, according to Peruvian authorities.
Nearly 100,000 have lost their homes, and another 620,000 have suffered damages.
– Solidarity, fear –
In Huarmey, some 40,000 people have been affected by the floods.
The government has dispatched navy boats with food, water and other supplies to access the city from the Pacific coast.
The military is helping dig the city out of the sludge, and Health Minister Patricia Garcia paid a visit on Friday.
But many residents say they aren’t getting enough help.
“Helicopters fly overhead, but all they do is take pictures. Nobody comes,” said Jorge Lopez, a fisherman.
For the most part, people are taking cleanup into their own hands, grabbing shovels and digging themselves out wherever they can.
In one neighborhood, residents paid 20 soles (about $6) each to hire heavy machinery to clear their street.
But beneath the solidarity there is also fear.
Looters are rumored to be pillaging local businesses at night.
And residents never know where the next mudslide will hit.
“The huaycos are still coming, and the saddest part is that they arrive at night. We need urgent help. We need water and food,” said Luz Castillo, speaking from behind a brick wall she has built to block off her doorway in hopes of keeping out the water.
Authorities warn the city will remain at high risk for mudslides for at least another week.