A blogger who visited Yungay, the Peru town that disappeared in 1970, has captured the eerie silence of what is now the most catastrophic disaster in the country’s history. Emily Bloor from Luxury Backpack visited the small highland town, which was completely wiped out along with all of its 25,000 residents when a devastating earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale struck.
It happened at around 3.23pm when most of the locals were watching a World Cup game, and devastated an area of around 83,000 sq km, tearing up homes and roads. The earthquake destabilised a glacier sitting high up on the mountains above Yungay, and 10 million cubic metres of ice, rock and snow tore down the mountainside at 120 miles per hour. Yungay and most inhabitants were buried by the landslide, with the only survivors being those who raced the steps up to the cemetery that overlooked the town.
The earthquake claimed 74,000 people that day and over 25,000 were declared missing, buried beneath the ice and rock of the Yungay avalanche. Today, the entire ground that was once the town of Yungay is now a national cemetery. "Yungay isn't very well known, even by Peru's backpackers, so I really didn't know much about it when I decided to visit," Emily tells Lonely Planet. "When we arrived at the former town, now a peaceful stretch of wild meadow, the lack of information became even more surprising. How does such a huge and devastating event slip under the radar?"
"I was completely heartbroken wandering around the mass graveyard that is all that remains of the town. The only things that remain are four palm trees, which stand out above the metre-deep rubble; the church steeple; a bus, twisted into the ground; and the cemetery, which still watches over the town as it had back on that day in 1970. Today the old site of Yungay remains a place to remember those who lost their lives. It is now just a part of the Peruvian highlands, and anyone who didn’t know would never guess that an entire civilization was below the ground."
Emily says the new Yungay is incredibly beautiful and peaceful and is covered in wild flowers and palm trees. Several memorials and stone crosses mark the land, and the atmosphere is one of peace and remembrance. It is clear the victims have not been forgotten by locals who now preserve the area and come to Yungay to pay their respects.
"When walking around, I tried to comprehend the reality of a bustling town and all its residents under my feet – but couldn't quite come to terms with it," she says. "Because not only is Yungay now a site of significant geographical change, it's also a mass grave. I felt saddened seeing an old man sitting in the shade on his own, wondering whether he might have been one of the children who had gone to see a travelling circus that day. Was his home and family buried underneath the ground?"
Emily is a travel blogger who now writes about luxury backpacking with kids, having recently finished a six-month maternity trip to Mexico with her baby. She is working on her first novel about her time as a yacht stewardess and says she was very moved by her visit to Yungay. "Without tourists visiting and locals speaking about it, Yungay could very easily be completely forgotten," she says.
Check out Emily's blog, Luxury Backpack, here.