Glacier breaks in Peru, causing tsunami in Andes

LIMA Mon Apr 12, 2010 7:49pm EDT

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LIMA (Reuters) - A huge glacier broke off and plunged into a lake in Peru, causing a 75-foot (23-meter) tsunami wave that swept away at least three people and destroyed a water processing plant serving 60,000 local residents, government officials said on Monday.

The ice block tumbled into a lake in the Andes on Sunday near the town of Carhuaz, some 200 miles north of the capital, Lima. Three people were feared buried in debris.

Investigators said the chunk of ice from the Hualcan glacier measured 1,640 feet by 656 feet.

"This slide into the lake generated a tsunami wave, which breached the lake's levees, which are 23 meters high -- meaning the wave was 23 meters high," said Patricio Vaderrama, an expert on glaciers at Peru's Institute of Mine Engineers.

Authorities evacuated mountain valleys, fearing more breakages.

It was one of the most concrete signs yet that glaciers are disappearing in Peru, home to 70 percent of the world's tropical icefields. Scientists say warmer temperatures will cause them to melt away altogether within 20 years.

In 1970, not far from Carhuaz, an earthquake triggered an avalanche of ice, rock and mud on the mountain of Huascaran that buried the town of Yungay, killing more than 20,000 people who lived below Peru's tallest peak, which sits 22,204 feet above sea level.

(Writing by Luis Andres Henao; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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