MACHU PICCHU, Peru, Jan 27 (Reuters) – Hundreds of tourists faced sleeping outdoors or in train carriages near Peru’s Incan citadel Machu Picchu on Wednesday as they wait to be airlifted out after flooding and mudslides stranded them.
Around 700 tourists have been evacuated by helicopter, but some 1,400 are still waiting to be pulled out after the heaviest rains in 15 years pummeled the area over the weekend, killing 5 people and cutting off Peru’s top tourist pull.
"We’ll house as many as can, up to 500 people maybe," said Rosa Tupayachi with PeruRail, the company that runs trains between the Inca ruins and the nearby city of Cusco.
Around 300 people slept in train carriages and at the station on Tuesday night. Services have been suspended.
Aside from the train, the only ways to reach the ancient Inca fortress are to trek some 28 miles (45 km) through steep mountain passes or by helicopter.
Some stranded tourists complained about the pace of the rescue effort and at least one tour operator said supplies of food and water were running low.
"It’s a very difficult situation and I expect it’ll go on for at least a few more days," said Dennis Clarke, a Canadian tourist, as he was waiting to board a rescue helicopter.
"People are anxious. A lot of people here have connecting flights, other places they need to be," he said.
Machu Picchu, which was built in the mid-15th century and lies some 680 miles (1,100 km) southeast of Lima, is a World Heritage Site. About a million people visit the ruins, which lie some 7,874 feet (2,400 meters) above sea-level, every year.
The government has declared a state of emergency.
Tour guide Cecila Molina in Aguas Calientes, the town nearest the ruins, said food was scarce and that some vendors had tripled their prices.
Television images showed travelers, locking arms for balance, attempting to cross low-level rushes of muddy water. Some got stuck and fell down.
Officials expect the rains to continue off and on until the weekend, but with less intensity than in the past few days.
Cusco’s Governor Hugo Gonzales has said some 1,200 homes have been washed away by the rains, as well as several bridges and some 22,240 acres (9,000 hectares) of farmland.
He put an initial estimate of the damage at $280 million. (Additional reporting by Marco Aquino and Dana Ford; Editing by Simon Gardner and Vicki Allen)