National Geographic : 1962 Jun
youngster standing nearby. He shrugged. "Thirty feet in spots; 60 in others." On the rim of the ruin I met Cesar Barrios, subprefect from the provincial capital, Hua ras. "Come, I'll take you to the command post," he said, turning with a limp that fa vored a bandaged leg. "You are injured?" "I fell upon the ice. Ours was the first party to cross the avalanche debris the morn ing after the disaster. It was very early-5:30, in fact, and somewhat dark. When I stepped upon a rock, it was not rock at all. Ice. I slipped, and a sharp corner cut my leg. Pain ful, but it could have been worse." "Out on the avalanche, did you find any injured survivors?" I asked. "Survivors? Of that?" He glanced at the wasteland where so many people had been stoned to death. "No. The avalanche either killed a man or spared him-totally." He was right. In the whole disaster, fewer than two dozen people had been hospitalized. The command post was one tent, one table, and a telephone. Col. Humberto Ampuero Perez, heading the Ranrahirca operations, held a map sketched by his staff (page 864). "Here was Glacier 511 on Mount Huasca ran," he said. "Geologists numbered the gla ciers a few years ago." It was a classic textbook story of an ava lanche. Fattened by freak snows ("even the Cordillera Negra had a sprinkling of white"), warmed by unseasonal sunshine, the glacier had broken from its steep, rocky perch. Clouds wreathe the eternal snows of HuascarAn, a vision of splen dor looming over fertile fields south of the peak. Grains, fruits, and vegetables flourish in equa torial sunshine that offsets the Callej6n's 10,000-foot elevation. Sheep provide wool for hand-wo ven blankets and clothing. The countryside around Ranrahirca resembled this before the disaster. Harvest helpers near HuarAs frolic in a pile of grain. Thumping drums and wailing flutes spur on Andean threshers. Oxen trample the grain to sep arate seed from husk. Men winnow the grain by tossing it into the breeze. Many farmers live on vast haciendas. In exchange for serv ices to landowners, they receive the right to till small plots of land for themselves.