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Unbearable stench: Giant sewage spill befouls Peru's capital

City water workers drain a street filled with sewage water in the San Juan de Lurigancho district of Lima, Peru, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. In the middle of an intense pestilence, workers, police and soldiers struggled with a flood of sewage water caused by the obstruction of a huge pipe that collected sewage from the most populated district of Peru. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Amid an unbearable stench, thousands of workers, police and soldiers struggled Wednesday to contain and clean up a flood of sewage that has caused the government to declare a health emergency in one of the most populous parts of Peru's capital.

The foul flood was caused by a blockage in a giant pipe that collects 80 percent of the sewage in the San Juan de Lurigancho district. Adding a political element, the pipe was relocated about six years ago by Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant that is at the heart of a corruption scandal engulfing elites across Latin America, including Peru.

"It has become clogged: strange material has entered the collector," said President Martin Vizcarra, who pledged to find those responsible and declared a health emergency.

Vizcarra said the pipe is buried at a depth of nine meters (30 feet) and it "began to sink," with dirty water flowing into low-lying areas of San Juan de Lurigancho, which has more than 1 million inhabitants.

More than 100 police officers rode horses through the waters while dozens of giant suction machines pulled up sewage.

Maria Cruz, 80, cried as she used a bucket of clean water to wash two small dolls that had adorned the top of her wedding cake decades ago.

"You can't even breath here," she said.

The flooding began Sunday when millions of liters (gallons) of sewage spilled across more than eight hectares (20 acres) of the borough, reaching depths of two meters (6 1/2 feet), officials said.

"We are worried by the pollution," said resident Oswaldo Vasquez. Neighbors complained of dirty water coming out of their taps and toilets.

While officials have not yet determined who is responsible for the flooding, Vizcarra said the builder of a public works project is responsible for any defect in it for the next seven years.

"And this project doesn't have seven years," he added.

Mayra Cardenas of the communications office of Odebrecht's office in Peru said: "We will not comment."

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