Rescuers comfort a woman whose daughter is missing in Alausí, Ecuador, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, after a landslide swept through the city burying dozens of houses. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
ALAUSÍ, Ecuador (AP) — The intense rains of the last few hours increased the risk for the 300 rescuers and dozens of residents who are working on a gigantic landslide in south-central Ecuador that has left at least 13 dead and 67 missing.
Cristian Torres, Secretary of Risk Management, said on Wednesday that due to the saturation of water in the upper part of the mountain in Alausí -222 kilometers south of the capital-, “the search and rescue tasks were suspended because the terrain It is unstable” and pointed out that the technicians are working to channel the water to the sides and reduce the threat.
He added that there are possibilities of landslides like the one that occurred on Sunday night in Alausí in about a dozen sectors of the country, where they have coordinated with local authorities to order the evacuation of the population.
The area was Wednesday a gigantic, slippery dark mass of mud entered by heavy machinery accompanied by dogs trained to detect human bodies underground.
Orlando Vallejo, head of the Riobamba Fire Department, confirmed the discovery of a fatality among the rubble during the morning, bringing the death toll to 13. On Tuesday afternoon, another five bodies had been found.
The recent rescues give hope to Cristian Quito, who is looking for his cousins Humberto and Armando, two farmers who disappeared on Sunday while they were sleeping in that area of Alausí.
“They were working in the fields, but since it was Sunday, Alausí went down to the little house they had, to bring supplies for the following week’s work. They couldn’t get out anymore,” he tearfully told The Associated Press.
Torres affirmed that between evacuees and affected there are about 500 people, although the number could increase in the next few hours because they are working with community leaders and leaders of the sector so that they finish vacating the properties on the flanks of the landslide, an area considered unstable.
He clarified that the area under alert is about 247 hectares, around and especially above the disaster area, much of it with low population density, according to maps of the area.
Leonor Coro lived in the El Calvario neighborhood, which was evacuated as a precaution. Since she did not have the means to carry her furniture or animals, she just kept a few clothes in four bags.
“I am leaving everything, my house, my animals. I prefer to leave, sometimes because of foolishness one clings, but the lives of my mother, my daughters and granddaughter come first,” he told the AP and expressed his hope of finding work elsewhere.
On Sunday night, a gigantic avalanche of earth, stones, trees and rubble erased everything that existed on a hillside 150 meters wide by 700 meters long, where there were at least 50 houses and buildings of up to three stories.
Dozens of people affected by the disaster eat and sleep in at least three shelters who, as soon as dawn breaks, head towards the landslide to find out what’s new and join the search efforts.
The site had been declared a yellow alert two months ago and the day before the tragedy, the cracks and tremors in the earth began to increase remarkably, for which a part of the population left the place but others refused to leave.
According to the authorities, the landslide left 500 people and 163 houses affected, as well as 150 meters of highway, 60% of the drinking water network and 20% of the public lighting network.
Solano reported from Quito.
Rescuers recover the remains of a child in Alausi, Ecuador, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, after a landslide swept through the town, burying dozens of houses. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)Rescuers recover the remains of a child in Alausi, Ecuador, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, after a landslide devastated the city and buried dozens of houses. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)