Peru mining ghost town
In this May 21, 2014 photo, a miner with an axe digs for gold using a rustic technique known as "chiquiquiar" in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. After a government crackdown on illegal mining companies in April, the miners who stayed behind are reduced to rudimentary gold extraction using pickaxes, shovels and small motors. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this May 21, 2014 photo, a miner with an axe digs for gold using a rustic technique known as "chiquiquiar" in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. After a government crackdown on illegal mining companies in April, the miners who stayed behind are reduced to rudimentary gold extraction using pickaxes, shovels and small motors. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 21, 2014 photo, a miner with an axe digs for gold using a rustic technique known as "chiquiquiar" in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Illegal mining accounts for about 20 percent of Peru’s gold exports, and most miners are poor migrants from the Andean highlands. After the crackdown, this nearly half-century-old Amazon boomtown has gone bust. Mayor Marco Ortega of Huepetuhe estimates more than 22,000 people have left since the government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal. He says only about 3,000 people remain. Wildcat miners have extracted 159 million metric tons of gold worth $7 billion over the past decade from the Madre de Dios region that includes Huepetuhe.

In this May 5, 2014 photo, miners known as "Maraqueros" ready a rustic type of hydraulic jet known locally as a "Chupadera," after hauling the device about 16-meters deep into a crater at a gold mine process in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. A new threat now looms for the estimated 20,000 wildcat miners who toil in huge scar of denuded rainforest known as La Pampa, an area nearly three times the size of Washington, D.C. Peru's government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19 and began a crackdown. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this May 5, 2014 photo, miners known as "Maraqueros" ready a rustic type of hydraulic jet known locally as a "Chupadera," after hauling the device about 16-meters deep into a crater at a gold mine process in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. A new threat now looms for the estimated 20,000 wildcat miners who toil in huge scar of denuded rainforest known as La Pampa, an area nearly three times the size of Washington, D.C. Peru's government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19 and began a crackdown. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 5, 2014 photo, miners known as "Maraqueros" ready a rustic type of hydraulic jet known locally as a "Chupadera" after hauling the device about 16-meters deep into a crater at a gold mine process in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The environmental cost has been high, with huge scars gouged out of the rainforest that are visible from outer space and tons of mercury, a toxin used to bind mined gold flecks, released into the environment and contaminating the food chain in a region of rich biodiversity where several indigenous tribes live in voluntary isolation. 

A miner carries hoses inside an illegal gold mine in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 2, 2014. People at the mine are working up to the last minute while they fear authorities will arrive any moment as part of a government crackdown on illegal gold mining since a nationwide ban took effect April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A miner carries hoses inside an illegal gold mine in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 2, 2014. People at the mine are working up to the last minute while they fear authorities will arrive any moment as part of a government crackdown on illegal gold mining since a nationwide ban took effect April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

A miner carries hoses inside an illegal gold mine in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The miners who stayed behind are reduced to rudimentary gold extraction using pickaxes, shovels and small motors. The government gave informal miners until April 19 to formalize any claims they might have, but the vast majority didn't have any. The government official overseeing the crackdown has said authorities plan to provide work for miners rendered jobless, but Ortega says no assistance has arrived.

In this May 3, 2014 photo, Prisaida, 2, sits in the shallow waters of a polluted lagoon as her parents mine for gold nearby, in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. The lagoon emerged as a result of miners bombarding the earth with jet streams of water in search of gold. The miners know they will be soon be evicted, Peru’s government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this May 3, 2014 photo, Prisaida, 2, sits in the shallow waters of a polluted lagoon as her parents mine for gold nearby, in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. The lagoon emerged as a result of miners bombarding the earth with jet streams of water in search of gold. The miners know they will be soon be evicted, Peru’s government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 3, 2014 photo, Prisaida, 2, sits in the shallow waters of a polluted lagoon as her parents mine for gold nearby, in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. The lagoon emerged as a result of miners bombarding the earth with jet streams of water in search of gold. The miners know they will be soon be evicted, Peru’s government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 4, 2014 photo, a miner continues his search for gold in mud-drenched clothes inside a crater at an illegal gold mine process in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. The informal miners of La Pampa know they will soon be evicted, their engines blown up and settlements burned after Peru’s government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19. The government claims that the informal miners have destroyed the surrounding forests and polluted the environment by using mercury in the gold extraction process. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this May 4, 2014 photo, a miner continues his search for gold in mud-drenched clothes inside a crater at an illegal gold mine process in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. The informal miners of La Pampa know they will soon be evicted, their engines blown up and settlements burned after Peru’s government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19. The government claims that the informal miners have destroyed the surrounding forests and polluted the environment by using mercury in the gold extraction process. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 4, 2014 photo, a miner continues his search for gold in mud-drenched clothes inside a crater at an illegal gold mine process in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. The informal miners of La Pampa know they will soon be evicted, their engines blown up and settlements burned after Peru’s government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19. The government claims that the informal miners have destroyed the surrounding forests and polluted the environment by using mercury in the gold extraction process. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

A man throws an empty drum into the crater made from gold mining in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region in Peru, Friday, May 2, 2014. People at the illegal gold mine are working up to the last minute while they fear authorities will arrive any moment as part of a government crackdown since a nationwide ban on illegal gold mining took effect April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A man throws an empty drum into the crater made from gold mining in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region in Peru, Friday, May 2, 2014. People at the illegal gold mine are working up to the last minute while they fear authorities will arrive any moment as part of a government crackdown since a nationwide ban on illegal gold mining took effect April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

A man throws an empty drum into the crater made from gold mining in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region in Peru, Friday, May 2, 2014. People at the illegal gold mine are working up to the last minute while they fear authorities will arrive any moment as part of a government crackdown since a nationwide ban on illegal gold mining took effect April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 3, 2014 photo, wildcat miners wait their turn to melt their amalgam of gold and mercury to burn off the mercury in the temporary home of a gold buyer in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. It's not just miners who are threatened with economic catastrophe from the government¹s campaign to wipe out illegal mining operations, said a mining camp cook. For every miner there is a family that eats because he works, she said. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this May 3, 2014 photo, wildcat miners wait their turn to melt their amalgam of gold and mercury to burn off the mercury in the temporary home of a gold buyer in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. It's not just miners who are threatened with economic catastrophe from the government¹s campaign to wipe out illegal mining operations, said a mining camp cook. For every miner there is a family that eats because he works, she said. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 3, 2014 photo, wildcat miners wait their turn to melt their amalgam of gold and mercury to burn off the mercury in the temporary home of a gold buyer in La Pampa in Peru's Madre de Dios region. It's not just miners who are threatened with economic catastrophe from the government's campaign to wipe out illegal mining operations, said a mining camp cook. For every miner there is a family that eats because he works, she said. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 20, 2014 photo, a golden statue of a miner holding a shovel and plate stands in the empty central square of Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Thousands of people have left the Peruvian Amazon boomtown since the government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this May 20, 2014 photo, a golden statue of a miner holding a shovel and plate stands in the empty central square of Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Thousands of people have left the Peruvian Amazon boomtown since the government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 20, 2014 photo, a golden statue of a miner holding a shovel and plate stands in the empty central square of Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Thousands of people have left the Peruvian Amazon boomtown since the government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Police stand guard along a highway leading to illegal mining operations in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 16, 2014. The government started cracking down on illegal gold mining since a nationwide ban took effect April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Police stand guard along a highway leading to illegal mining operations in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 16, 2014. The government started cracking down on illegal gold mining since a nationwide ban took effect April 19. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Police stand guard along a highway leading to illegal mining operations in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 22, 2014 photo, a vendor fills a man's motorcycle tank with gas because fuel stations are closed in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. The government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal as part of a government crackdown. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this May 22, 2014 photo, a vendor fills a man's motorcycle tank with gas because fuel stations are closed in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. The government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal as part of a government crackdown. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 22, 2014 photo, a vendor fills a man's motorcycle tank with gas because fuel stations are closed in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. The government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal as part of a government crackdown. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

A man sleeps in a bar during a police operation that destroyed the illegal mining camp in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 16, 2014. Most miners are poor migrants from the Andean highlands. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A man sleeps in a bar during a police operation that destroyed the illegal mining camp in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 16, 2014. Most miners are poor migrants from the Andean highlands. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

A man sleeps in a bar during a police operation that destroyed the illegal mining camp in La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, Friday, May 16, 2014. Most miners are poor migrants from the Andean highlands. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 22, 2014 photo, a karaoke bar sits empty in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Mayor Marco Ortega estimates more than 22,000 people have left Huepetuhe since the government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal. He says only about 3,000 townspeople remain. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this May 22, 2014 photo, a karaoke bar sits empty in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Mayor Marco Ortega estimates more than 22,000 people have left Huepetuhe since the government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal. He says only about 3,000 townspeople remain. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this May 22, 2014 photo, a karaoke bar sits empty in Huepetuhe in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Mayor Marco Ortega estimates more than 22,000 people have left Huepetuhe since the government halted gasoline shipments in April and sent troops to destroy heavy machinery used in mining that it deemed illegal. He says only about 3,000 townspeople remain. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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In April of 2014, Peru’s government dialed up a crackdown on illegal gold mining that has badly scarred the ecologically rich southeastern jungle region of Madre de Dios. Madre de Dios state has an estimated 40,000 illegal miners, most centered near the commercially vital Interoceanic Highway that links the Pacific Ocean with Brazil.

 

Text from AP StoryAP PHOTOS: Post-Crackdown, Peru Mining Town Limpsby Franklin Briceno 

Lead Photo Caption: In this Wednesday, April 30, 2014 photo, police stand guard as a miner begs them not to destroy his truck in the Huepetuhe district of Peru's Madre de Dios region. Soldiers, police and marines have begun destroying illegal gold mining machinery in Peru’s southeastern jungle region. Authorities began enforcing a ban on illegal mining Monday. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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