Thu, Apr 15, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Peruvian glacier splits, triggers deadly tsunami

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A massive ice block broke from a glacier and crashed into a lake in the Peruvian Andes, unleashing a 23m tsunami and sending muddy torrents through nearby towns, killing at least one person.

The chunk of ice, estimated at the size of four soccer fields, detached from the Hualcan glacier near Carhuaz, about 300km north of the capital, Lima, on Sunday.

It plunged into a lagoon known as lake 513, triggering a tsunami that breached 23m-high levees and damaged Carhuaz and other villages, authorities said.

The Indeci civil defense institute said 50 homes and a water processing plant serving 60,000 residents were wrecked. Trout fishermen initially presumed dead survived, leaving one confirmed death.

Authorities evacuated mountain valley settlements fearing that the ice block — measuring 500m by 200m — could be followed by more ruptures as the glacier melts.

Cesar Alvarez, governor of Ancash region, which includes the affected area, blamed climate change.

“Because of global warming the glaciers are going to detach and fall on these overflowing lakes. This is what happened,” he told Peru’s Canal N cable news channel.

Two people were injured when they saw the torrent of water, panicked in their car and crashed.

The number of casualties could have been much greater had the lake level been higher when the ice block fell.

“This slide into the lake generated a tsunami wave, which breached the lake’s levees, which are 23m high — meaning the wave was 23m high,” said Patricio Vaderrama, an expert on glaciers at Peru’s Institute of Mine Engineers.

It was the latest evidence that glaciers are vanishing from Peru, which has 70 percent of the world’s tropical icefields. They have retreated by 22 percent since 1975, according to a World Bank report, and warmer temperatures are expected to erase them entirely within 20 years.

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