Lima’s time bomb: how mudslides threaten the world’s great ‘self-built’ city

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Evangelina Chamorro became a symbol of hope after she survived being swept two miles in a mudslide but her story reveals the citys shaky foundations

The extraordinary video of a Peruvian woman coated in mud emerging from a brown sea of pallets and wooden poles was viewed around the world. Evangelina Chamorro, who had been feeding her pigs when she was swept for two miles downhill in a huge mudslide, became the poster girl for resilience during the countrys worst floods in living memory.

Remarkably, the 32-year-old was treated for minor injuries and left hospital just a week after the incident in March. The psychological scars, however, are taking longer to heal.

It would have been too sad for my daughters if I had not survived. I just thought of them and prayed to God. Thanks to God I survived, she says, her expression wavering.

Labelled Mother Courage by the national press, her ordeal, recorded on a camera phone by an onlooker, was viewed millions of times and broadcast around the world. But Chamorros story is not just one of remarkable survival. It revealed the shaky foundation of the Peruvian capital itself.

By many reckonings, Lima is one of the worlds greatest self-built cities. Most people here still build their own homes, pouring the concrete themselves. In fact, more cement is sold on the domestic market than in the commercial one.

But those homes are all too often built in vulnerable locations, sold by unscrupulous land dealers who misrepresent safety claims. As a result, when heavy rains hit the city, hundreds of thousands of homes were simply washed away.

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