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
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
University of Colorado photo,