Sixty-two people are missing and seven others died in the south of Ecuador, in a landslide caused by heavy rains overnight from Sunday to Monday, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso announced Monday evening.
“Five (members of my family) are buried here,” Manuel Upai, a 40-year-old farmer and mason, told AFP. Ecuador.
Several dozen houses were buried in this locality in the province of Chimborazo, about 300 km south of Quito, in an Andean area hit last week by an earthquake that killed 15 people, including one in neighboring Peru.
“I deplore that seven people died and that 62 people are still missing,” President Guillermo Lasso said Monday evening on his arrival in the town of Alausi.
“We will continue to carry out rescue operations,” assured Mr. Lasso. In the disaster area, some 600 houses spared by the landslide were evacuated on the orders of the authorities.
Images broadcast by local media showed dozens of rescuers and civilians bustling around the debris to try to free buried people, in a ballet of ambulances with flashing lights and screaming sirens.
A massive brownish mudslide suddenly descended from the verdant mountains that surround Alausi, home to some 45,000 people. In the disaster area, survivors in tears and with tearful faces await news of their missing loved ones.
From the early hours of Monday morning, rescue teams were hard at work looking for the slightest sign of life under the rubble.
The “fatal noise” of the mountain side that broke away still echoes in the mind of Maria Villa, 46, who escaped from her house through a window with her husband and daughter.
“I was preparing to eat (…) and I heard a noise,” she told AFP, frightened. Her husband immediately shouted, “The hill is falling.”
Maria acknowledges that the authorities had recommended that her family leave the area, which was classified as “yellow alert” in February due to the risk of landslides after severe weather.
“This week they advised us to leave, but the truth is that it hurts to leave our things behind. I know that life has more value, but it is such a strong pain,” she confides.
The authorities had also warned of a possible collapse of the E35 road in the Casual sector, where part of the mountain had broken away.
According to the National Secretariat for Risk Management (SNGR), nearly 500 people in total were affected by the flow.
The Chimborazo governor’s office said it was preparing food collection centers to help those affected. The armed forces take part in relief operations and in the transport of material to build temporary shelters.
For its part, the local Red Cross provided “pre-hospital care” to the victims. Residents of nearby villages also arrived in the early hours of the morning to assist in the rescue operations.
The town of Alausi is known worldwide for the “Devil’s Nose”, a steep slope through which Ecuador’s Trans-Andean railway line passes, a stretch dubbed the “most difficult train in the world” due to its dangerousness.
Since January, heavy rains have already left 22 dead and 346 homeless in the country. More than 6,900 homes were damaged and 72 were destroyed, authorities said. Some 987 incidents were caused by bad weather, such as floods and landslides.
In February, rains led to a five-day suspension of crude oil pumping as a pipeline threatened to burst after a bridge collapsed.
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