At least 16 people died from a landslide in Ecuador’s central Andean south and another 32 were rescued in various health conditions, Chimborazo Governor Iván Vinueza reported Monday, as rescuers scrambled to remove debris amidst of threats of new landslides.
The number of disappeared is close to fifty and, according to Luis Montesdeoca, police chief of the Dinased (the area for crimes against life) in the province of Chimborazo, six recovered corpses have already been delivered to their relatives.
In statements to The Associated Press, Vinueza said that the wounded, mainly with multiple injuries, were evacuated to hospitals in the area while the alarms continued to sound due to new tremors that anticipate earth movements.
He stressed that in the area of the tragedy about two months ago landslides and cracking began and since then the evacuation had been requested. He added that on Saturday morning the earthquakes increased and many residents decided to leave out of fear, but others were unable to leave.
“My mother is buried, I don’t know which side she is on… Go down the mountain and bury her, I am so sad, devastated. There is nothing here, not houses, not anything, we are homeless without family,” Luis Ángel González, 58, told the AP, who also lost other family members as a result of the avalanche.
With daylight you could see the magnitude of the early morning landslide. A part of a hill fell off and fell, dragging trees, houses, telephone masts and other constructions, leaving a hole approximately 150 meters wide by nearly 700 meters long. Telephone and internet connections were intermittent until at least Monday afternoon.
A yellow tape with the legend “danger”, torn, marks the risk area. Dozens of people looked in disbelief at the rescue work of firefighters who came from different cities in Ecuador, from the patrimonial “black bridge” -as it is known by the locals- through which, years ago, what was considered the most difficult railway line in the world traveled. , due to the zigzagging of its layout that forced the train to advance some sections forward and others backwards.
More than fifty houses were buried under tons of earth and the survivors who are now housed in temporary shelters mourn their misfortune. In the one of the Iglesia Matriz de Alausí is the Zuña family, who was saved by minutes from the landslide.
What were previously rooms for catechism or parish meetings, were adapted with bunk beds days ago, after the area was declared an emergency on March 10 due to the risk. There is another shelter in the Municipal House, seat of the local government, and another 11 in neighboring towns.
Sonia Guadalupe Zuña told The Associated Press how her mother was reluctant to leave what they had built in years, despite the rubble landscape in which the sector was left. “They already told us to evacuate. I was ugly. We went to the shelter, but my mom didn’t want to,” said the Alausí resident. “Later my daughter went to convince him; When they walked along the rails, they all collapsed, they arrived covered in dirt and crying, ”she says while they teach her relaxation exercises to reduce her anxiety and impotence. Her family was left with only what they were wearing.
“I don’t know where, but we’re all going; My parents taught us that by working hard you get material things, but being together is priceless, ”she says through tears.
The Risk Management Secretariat reported in a statement mid-morning on Monday that there are also 46 missing and 163 houses affected as well as 150 meters of highway, 60% of the drinking water network and 25% of the public lighting network.
The landslide occurred around 10:00 p.m. Sunday (0300 GMT) in the sector known as Nuevo Alausí, some 222 kilometers south of the capital, and also destroyed a section of the Pan-American highway. The only accesses are by secondary roads, dirt, full of potholes, narrow and covered in a thick constant mist.
Rescuer and paramedic Alberto Escobar assured the AP that due to the time that has elapsed it is unlikely that any survivors will be found. “We had a call for help on the left side, but the population does not collaborate, they are not silent,” he commented resignedly. “The rescue dogs came,” he said, adding that the search work will continue as long as it does not rain for the safety of the staff.
The rescue personnel have concentrated on the flanks of the landslide because there are traces of houses and debris from the houses there.
Camera images from the Ecuadorian emergency service showed that residents of the site of the tragedy rushed to vacate houses and small buildings with the help of neighbors and transported electrical appliances and other belongings in vehicles to safe areas.
In a three-story house, Professor Luis Daquilema tried to get all his belongings out of what until now had been his house. Vans of acquaintances helped him, he hugged and cried with his wife. He has lost, according to him, everything he has achieved in 15 years. He built a house where they rented a bakery and now they all have to leave the site.
“I’m afraid. It cost me a lot, it was the heritage of my daughters, but life is more, ”she said.
On Sunday night they arrived from a family walk and before reaching their house, they heard a loud noise and screams. “It looked like a dump truck (truck) of sand; Right away the power went out and the screams were desperate,” he recalled to the AP, still scared. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m leaving with what I can save,” he said.
Meanwhile, the tenant who runs the bakery was trying to get bread. “I live higher up. I can’t even get anything out, everything stays there ”, she cried inconsolably. “I have nowhere to go.”
According to many of the inhabitants of Alausí, these stories of misfortune could have been avoided if they acted on time.
Since the end of February, the authorities had identified the risk of land mass movements in that area, according to reports from the General Secretariat for Risks, and shelters were set up in at least six cantons (municipalities). Food is arriving from other parts of the country to feed those sheltered and blankets and warm clothing are urgently requested.