A recent alumna and her journalist mother have been successfully evacuated from the isolated Peruvian town of Aguas Calientes after landslides and massive flooding stranded them along with 4,000 other tourists.
A 2008 GW graduate, Lisa Francavilla, had recently started a 3-month trip in South America with her mother-CBS News journalist Donna Francavilla-when disaster struck. Excessive rain and landslides left the pair stranded in the remote Peruvian town of Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu.
One of the guides for their tour of the Inca Trail had abandoned them, they had been kicked out of their hostel room and rioting outside meant they had to sneak back into a hostel for safety. Her fiancé and fellow GW alumnus Brian Smith said communication from the U.S. to Peru was limited.
“It’s really hard to get detailed information,” said Smith. “It was scary.”
Since Jan. 25 Lisa and her mother had been unable to travel due to the weather along with thousands of others. Aguas Calientes is only accessible by train and the one company that serves the area had halted service as water from the Urubamba River covered the tracks.
The Francavillas communicated with Smith, who graduated from GW in 2007, via Skype and e-mail messages. An internet café was available at their hostel, but as the days went on the food supply dwindled, prices went up and people grew upset over the rescue efforts.
Helicopters were coming in when the rain let up, but Smith was told by the Francavillas that unrest was spreading due to rumors that Americans have bribed officials in order to be rescued first.
The women even witnessed two British men beat up by a crowd because they were thought to be American. Tourists were evacuated with the help of American helicopters but the operation was handled by Peru.
By Jan. 28 Smith had some good news-the Francavillas were able to get on a helicopter that brought them to the small city of Ollantaytambo, and from there they traveled to Cusco, Peru. They were staying in a hostel there before continuing on to Lima.
“Right now I’m happy but I don’t get it.really not much attention was paid [to the situation in Peru],” Smith said in a phone interview from New York City with The Hatchet.
As of Jan. 29, the last of more than 4,000 visitors and Peruvians had been evacuated from the well-known tourist attraction, according to the Associated Press.
Smith said he got very little sleep last week and made numerous calls were made to U.S. consulates, embassies, and congressmen. His contacts helped him by reaching out to the U.S. Embassy in Peru, which sent field teams to help with the evacuation.
Smith said he was concerned that little attention was paid to the Peru situation because it was happening at the same time as relief efforts for Haiti’s earthquake.
In an e-mail, Smith said that when he called a State Department hotline to ask about the situation in Peru, he was transferred to a Haiti hotline.
Lisa and Donna are scheduled to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Smith is not sure when he will hear from them next.
“One of her life’s dreams was to see Machu Picchu,” he said of Lisa, who is currently applying to graduate programs to earn her doctorate in English.
Smith said the Francavillas did get to see some of Machu Picchu, and Lisa plans to return to Peru during her trip.