AFP - Rescue teams evacuating thousands of tourists trapped for four days around the rain-drenched ruins of Machu Picchu stepped up their efforts Thursday, as better weather allowed a flurry of helicopter flights.
Thursday saw 1,400 people rescued from the jungle-covered areas surrounding the Inca site by midday, the Peruvian minister for tourism Martin Perez said.
Twelve helicopters, including six from the United States, took advantage of a break from the torrential downpours to run some 93 flights laden with weary tourists from the town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of the ruins.
Authorities said 800 tourists were still stranded, either in or near Machu Picchu or along the Inca Trail, a narrow Andean pathway up to the ruins that takes four days to complete.
"The rescue will begin again on Friday at 6:00 am local time (1100 GMT), weather permitting," Perez told reporters.
Heavy rain and mudslides have since Sunday severed road and rail access between the city of Cusco, the ancient Inca capital, and Aguas Calientes.
The US ambassador to Peru, Michael McKinley, said the United States was "supporting, not managing the rescue, which should take two to three more days to conclude."
Aguas Calientes, located at the bottom of a narrow canyon, remains a difficult place for pilots to land, McKinley said.
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Latin America, attracting more than 400,000 visitors a year. The 15th-century Inca citadel is located on a high mountain ridge 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Cusco.
Peruvian officials defended the slow pace of the operations, saying they were being hampered by the heaviest rains in 15 years.
The Peruvian government has also sent food aid to the 8,000 residents of Aguas Calientes, cut off by landslides and swollen rivers.