Snow storms claim 18 lives in south Peru

 

A state of emergency has been declared in southern Peru where snow storms have claimed the lives of 18 people.

The country's president Mr Alejandro Toledo has travelled to the region with supplies of blankets and food, which will be delivered by plane and helicopter.

An estimated 30,000 people have been affected by the cold snap, mainly in the Andes mountains. Officials say the weather has been sparked by the El Nino climate phenomenon, swept Peru's high Andes at altitudes of more than 13,000 feet forcing the airport and schools in Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, to close.

The southern tourist mecca of Cusco, gateway to the Inca citadel Machu Picchu, and Arequipa were also badly hit as were other departments across the southern highlands.

Snow more than 3 feet deep covered pasture land and officials said 14,000 alpacas, 1,500 llamas and 6,700 sheep had died in Puno alone. Most residents in southern Peru raise animals to live.

US officials said on Thursday a new, but weak, El Nino had officially arrived in the United States. The last El Nino - an abnormal warming of waters in the eastern Pacific that occurs every four to five years and distorts wind and rainfall patterns - unleashed global floods and drought in 1997-98.

El Nino caused some $3.5 billion damage in Peru last time round. Peru is watching its arrival carefully because of the potential impact on its key fishing industry - Peru is the world's biggest producer of fishmeal, used in cattle feed.