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7.8 Earthquake in Peru Leaves 66,000 Dead

By Patrick Mondout

On May 31, 1970 at 3:23 p.m., a magnitude 7.8 earthquake killed 66,794 and caused $500 million in property damage. More than 100 towns (of more than 1000 population) were nearly or totally destroyed. This earthquake, with complicating factors of landslides and floods, was one of the largest disasters ever to occur in the Southern Hemisphere. No one who lived in Peru at the time has forgotten where they were when it happened that tranquil Sunday afternoon.

The cities of Chimbote, Huaras, and Casma in northern Peru were particularly hard hit, but the Andean valley of the Callejon de Huaylas suffered the most devastating damage. An earthquake-induced rock and snow avalanche on Mt. Huascaran buried the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca. You can learn more about the avalanche here.

As many as 1,500 schools and 150,000 homes were destroyed leaving more the 400,000 homeless. More than More than 60 countries responded with emergency relief. Blocked roads and an unprepared government hindered rescue operations.


This disaster was a wake-up call for planners and officials in Peru. A slogan, translated as "Let us not reconstruct underdevelopment" was seen on posters and heard in speeches in the months following the quake. Reconstruction aid, including funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was used not merely to rebuild stricken areas, but to improve the standard of living in these areas.


Photo shows a the same city street in Huaraz before the earthquake (compare with photo in the upper right). This adobe construction is typical of much of the housing that underwent complete collapse in the Andean townships.

University of Colorado photo, courtesy NOAA


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Photo shows a city street in Huaraz after the earthquake. See the same street before the quake below (middle).

University of Colorado photo, courtesy NOAA

Date(s): May 31, 1970

Location: near Huarez, Peru

Deaths: 66,000+

Injuries: unknown

Damage: $500M

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