Peruvian Earthquake of 1970

About the Peruvian Earthquake of 1970, the history of the destruction in Peru and South America.


A one-minute-long earthquake can do as much damage as the Hiroshima atom bomb. It happened one Sunday afternoon in spring in South America. Sixty seconds of such destructive force tottered a great nation.

When: On Sunday, May 31, 1970.

Where: 15 mi. west of Chimbote, Peru.

The Loss: 70,000 dead; 800,000 homeless. Property damage estimate: billions.

The Disaster: It began with a gentle tremor to grow quickly, expending its 60-second life in monstrous destruction--the worst earthquake in the history of South America. Those who escaped from buildings were knocked off their feet. Nothing could withstand the tremendous shaking of the earth. Houses, hospitals, deluxe tourist hotels, and apartment buildings crumbled like stacks of dominoes.

Roads disappeared and dust clouds darkened the skies. Towns and cities were leveled. There was no time to escape. Huaras, Yungay, and Teofilo became rubble in seconds. An avalanche started on Mount Huascaran, a 22,205' ice-capped peak in the Peruvian Andes; it buried Raurahirca and the remains of Yungay. Chimbote, 55 mi. west of Huascaran, resembled a bombed city; 30,000 sq. mi. were pulverized.

Aftermath: Rescue work was attempted with bare hands; no tools were available. Thousands of injured died for lack of help. The world did not know the extent of the catastrophe for 48 hours. Then help, food, and medical supplies began to arrive. But air drops from helicopters smashed on impact and whirring chopper blades started new avalanches.

Tomorrow: To offer hope for future earthquake victims is an old story. But perhaps one day soon, science will discover how to predict temblors. A prewarning system would save lives, and new methods of construction would assure earthquake-proof buildings.

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