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The world’s deadliest avalanche killed 30,000 – but the hero clown saved 300 children

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A massive earthquake triggered the deadliest avalanche in history, killing over 30,000 people as it smashed through a busy market town at over 400mph – but the disaster had an unlikely hero

There were only 400 survivors of the deadliest avalanche on record, which is believed to have killed up to 30,000 people, and most of them were rescued by a clown.

The Huascarán avalanche was triggered exactly 52 years ago, on May 31, 1970, when an earthquake destabilized a glacier on top of a mountain in Peru’s Yungay province.

As the mass of snow and ice tumbled down the mountainside, it collected a huge mass of rocks and gravel and turned into an unstoppable avalanche.

On its 100-mile journey to the Pacific coast, it battered the town of Yungay, where thousands had gathered for the weekly Sunday market.

After the combined damage from the earthquake and avalanche, little remained of Yungay. Only a few somber reminders of sexism, such as the ruined cathedral and cemetery, remain in the area.

The only other sign the city ever existed is “a statue of Jesus Christ, arms outstretched, standing high above the rubble,” which now stands as a memorial to the thousands killed in the disaster.

The Ancash earthquake (also known as the Great Peruvian Earthquake) occurred around 3:20 p.m.

The quake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, affected an area of ​​over 32,000 square miles, an area larger than Ireland.

As the avalanche it created accumulated more mass, it turned into a deadly stream of mud that traveled at a speed of 270 miles per hour and ejected some small rocks and stones at an estimated speed of 680 miles per hour.

Yungay’s 25,000 residents barely stood a chance.

Many of them had rushed to the church to pray after the earthquake and were quickly buried there.

“We were on our way from Yungay to Caraz when the earthquake struck,” survivor Mateo Casaverde told the Peruvian Times.

“When we got out of the car, the earthquake was almost over. Then we heard a low, low rumble, something different from, but not too different from, the noise of an earthquake. It came from the Huascarán.

“Then we saw a huge cloud of dust halfway between Yungay and the mountain. A part of the Huascarán came towards us. It was about 3:24.

“Where we were,” he added, “the only place that offered us relative safety was the cemetery, built on an artificial mound, like a pre-Inca tomb. We ran about 100 meters before reaching the cemetery. When I got to the top, I turned to Yungay and clearly saw a huge wave of gray mud, about 60 meters high.

“Moments later, the landslide hit the cemetery about five meters below our feet. The sky darkened because of all the dust, mainly from all the destroyed houses. We turned to check and Yungay and its thousands of residents were completely gone.”

Henri Gómez, a local guide who also survived the disaster, added that among the few survivors were 300 children who had been taken to the local stadium’s circus, which was located on a hilltop and on the outskirts of town.

He said one of the circus clowns saved their lives: “The clown got the kids to safety like the Pied Piper,” he said. “As soon as the earthquake struck, he led them from his tent to higher ground.”

The US Geological Survey, in its report on the disaster, estimated that while over 30,000 people died in the disaster, “it is doubtful the true number will ever be known.”

What was once the thriving city of Yungay is now a national cemetery. Digging to recover the dead or hunting for valuables that once belonged to them is strictly forbidden.

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