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Peru evacuating tourists stranded at Machu Picchu

<i>Alejandra Orosco/Reuters</i><br/>Stranded tourists walk through Chilca
Alejandra Orosco/Reuters
Stranded tourists walk through Chilca

By Claudia Rebaza, Duarte Mendonca, Hira Humayun and Kathleen Magramo, CNN

Hundreds of tourists stranded in the ancient city of Machu Picchu are being evacuated after Peru was plunged into a state of emergency following the ousting of the country’s president.

Following interruptions and closures last week, train services and airports are now reopening.

Civil unrest swept Peru earlier this month when former president Pedro Castillo was impeached and arrested, and his removal from power accelerated long-simmering political tensions in the country. Rail and air travel services were disrupted as protesters stormed airports.

PeruRail, Peru’s railway operator for the south and southeast regions of the country, said in a statement on Saturday that trains were resuming operations to and from Machu Picchu on an emergency basis.

“With this objective, we are coordinating with the Municipality of Machu Picchu to ensure the proper boarding of people on these trains, prioritizing the care of the elderly, people with health conditions and families with children,” the statement read.

Trains to and from Machu Picchu, the primary means of accessing UNESCO World Heritage Site, were halted on Tuesday, and PeruRail said in its statement that it regrets the interruption of its services that were “caused by a situation beyond the control of our company.”

PeruRail also said evacuees would be taken by bus from the community of Piscacucho to the city of Cuzco, where the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ) is located.

Airports resuming operations

Peru’s Ministry of Transport said on Friday that the airport in Cuzco, 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Machu Picchu, had resumed flights after operations were temporarily suspended amid protests in the country.

“Passengers who need to move during curfew hours may use their travel tickets as a safe-conduct,” the ministry said.

Other airports in Peru were also affected by the unrest but have started to reopen

On Monday, Peru’s Ministry of Transport and Communications tweeted that the Alfredo Rodriquez Ballon International Airport in Arequipa — Peru’s largest airport in the south — resumed its operations with the first flight taking off at 6:15 a.m.

The Inca Manco Capac International Airport in Juliaca is expected to resume operations starting Tuesday, according to the ministry.

Unexpectedly stranded

About 300 tourists from around the world, including Peruvians, South Americans, Americans and Europeans, were left stranded at Machu Picchu, according to Darwin Baca, Machu Picchu’s mayor.

Baca told CNN on Friday that he had requested helicopter flights to evacuate the tourists after demonstrations halted trains and flights.

Protests broke out in cities across the country following Castillo’s ousting, sometimes marked by clashes with Peru’s security forces. Some are protesting in support of Castillo, while others want a total reset of the country with fresh general elections and a dissolution of Congress.

The Municipal District of Machu Picchu had said in a statement on Friday that it expected to evacuate tourists by Saturday as tensions escalated across the country. At least 20 people have died amid the political demonstrations.

The evacuation effort is a collaborative between the mayor of Machu Picchu and the Ministries of Foreign Trade and Tourism, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Culture and the District Municipality of Machu Picchu.

Warnings from international governments

The UK embassy in the Peruvian capital of Lima advised British nationals to register via the platform “iPeru” through their online form and with local authorities at the Cultural Center at Avenida Pachacutec.

The US State Department has issued a travel advisory for citizens traveling in Peru, which it has listed as a level three “reconsider travel” destination. The State Department is asking travelers in Peru to sign up for STEP alerts from the US Embassy if they haven’t yet.

In an address on Sunday, Pope Francis called for peace in Peru.

“We pray for peace in Peru, that the violence in the country cease and that the path of dialogue be undertaken to overcome the political and social crisis that afflicts the population.”

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