MACHU PICCHU, Peru (Reuters) - The last of about 4,000 tourists stranded by floods and mudslides near Peru’s Incan citadel Machu Picchu waited to be airlifted on Friday, as travelers were told it would likely take some two months to re-establish train service to the famous ruins.
Authorities said they expected to complete the evacuation of the roughly 800 tourists late on Friday.
They have been stuck near the World Heritage Site since the heaviest rains in the region in 15 years flooded the area over the weekend, killing five people.
The torrential rains triggered mudslides that washed away parts of the only train line that connects the ruins with the nearby city of Cusco.
In places, bits of twisted track plunged into rivers of muddy water, which had risen with the rains.
Officials said it would likely take seven weeks to re-establish rail service, but that they were looking at other ways to reach Peru’s top tourist draw.
Apart from the train, the only ways to reach the ancient Incan site is to trek some 28 miles through steep mountain passes, or fly by helicopter.
Authorities closed the hiking trail earlier this week.
“Clearing the southern railway that runs ... to Machu Picchu will take some seven weeks at least,” Armando Pareja, head of PeruRail, told Reuters.
The company operates the train with Orient-Express.
Pareja said PeruRail was exploring a northern route, which would run on roads and a separate train line.
Machu Picchu was built in the mid-15th century and lies some 690 miles southeast of Lima. Roughly 1 million people visit the site, which sits some 7,874 feet above sea level, each year.
Authorities say roughly 4,600 homes and several bridges have been damaged by the rains, as well as some 39,500 acres of farmland.
Cusco’s governor has put an initial estimate of the damage at $280 million, while the National Chamber of Tourism said the impact of the rains would be wide-reaching.
“The tourism sector was hit hard, but so were the townspeople, who won’t have work for two months,” said Bartolome Campana, head of the tourism chamber.
Additional reporting by Teresa Cespedes; Writing by Dana Ford; Editing by Xavier Briand