January 28, 2010 / 10:45 PM / 11 years ago

New arrivals await airlift at Peru's Machu Picchu

* 1,400 tourists evacuated so far; 1,200 still stranded

* Families separated as women, children flown first

By Mariana Bazo

MACHU PICCHU, Peru, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Hundreds of tourists emerged from a grueling 28-mile (45 km) trek along Peru’s Inca trail on Thursday to find the ancient Machu Picchu ruins cut off by floods and mudslides, and joined the 1,200 or so travelers waiting to be airlifted out.

Roughly 1,400 tourists have been evacuated since the heaviest rains in 15 years pummeled the area over the weekend, but some 1,200 people are still stranded near Peru’s top tourist spot, and new travelers are arriving daily.

Groups that began the roughly four-day hike earlier in the week, before authorities shut it down, are trickling in and complicating aid efforts.

Five people, including two on the Inca trial, have been killed by the floods and mudslides.

“It’s completely chaotic. There are problems with the organization of evacuations, and problems distributing food and medicine,” said Randall Molina, a Swiss tourist who has been stranded since Sunday.

The military is running helicopters out of a soccer field in Aguas Calientes, the town nearest the ruins, where women waiting for flights cried as they were separated from their husbands and adult children.

Officials say it may take three days to get everyone out.

Machu Picchu, which was built in the mid-15th century and lies some 680 miles (1,100 km) southeast of Lima, is a World Heritage Site. About a million people visit the ruins, which lie 7,874 feet (2,400 meters) above sea-level, every year.

Aside from hiking, the only ways to reach the Incan site is by helicopter or train service, which has been suspended.

According to authorities, nearly 3,000 homes and several bridges have been destroyed by the rains. Roughly 32,334 acres (13,085 hectares) of farmland have been damaged.

Cusco’s governor has put an initial estimate of the damage at $280 million. (Additional reporting by Marco Aquino; writing by Dana Ford; editing by Todd Eastham)

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