The renowned ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru are expected to be closed until April after torrential rainstorms heavily damaged a rail line...

The renowned ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru are expected to be closed until April after torrential rainstorms heavily damaged a rail line, the only access to the Inca citadel beside days of hiking.

The Peruvian government now is debating building roads to the area, the country’s top tourist destination, something that has been considered before but rejected on conservation grounds.

About 4,000 people, including thousands of foreign tourists, were evacuated by helicopter in late January after they were trapped in the small mountain town of Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo), the end of the rail line a few miles from the 15th-century archaeological site. (Tourists go by bus the last few miles up to the 8,000-foot Machu Picchu.)

The train company PeruRail has estimated it will take about eight weeks to repair the railway between Aguas Calientes and Ollantaytambo, a town in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Rampaging river waters and mudslides severely damaged sections of the rail line.

Machu Picchu and the surrounding area, including the city of Cusco, are the major destinations of tourists to Peru, with more than two million visitors expected this year.

Although this is the rainy season, when tourist numbers normally are lower, hotels and other tourism-dependent businesses near Machu Picchu are struggling because of the rail closure. Access to the Inca trail, an ancient and days-long hiking route to the ruins, also has been hampered by the storms and rail closure. And the heavy rains flooded houses and fields, with thousands left homeless. The Peruvian military is flying in relief supplies.

However, Machu Picchu itself was not damaged in the storm, Peruvian officials told a local radio station.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com