Heavy rain caused a landslide in the Andes of Ecuador on Sunday evening local time. The rescue operation continues on Tuesday. The authorities refrain from giving the final balance of victims, dozens of people are still being sought. Seven people have been officially confirmed dead, according to local media. The country’s president, Guillermo Lasso, arrived at the crash site.
The landslide engulfed part of the city and canton (county) of Alausi in the central part of the country, at an altitude of more than two thousand meters above sea level. Several hundred buildings were buried under the heaps of earth, and some sports facilities and municipal infrastructure suffered a similar fate. Several schools are in the endangered zone.
The death toll is hard to count
The incident took place on Sunday, March 26 in the evening of local time. Rescue operations are still underway on Tuesday, including with the help of sniffer dogs, and authorities refrain from giving a death toll. They withdrew from the figure of 16 killed reported on Monday. Seven people have been officially confirmed dead – that’s how many bodies were transported to the police school, which functions as a mortuary. The remaining nine people, who were initially registered as fatalities, are now missing, bringing the total to at least 46. More than 20 people have been injured.
The Minister of Economic and Social Integration, Esteban Bernal, stressed that the figures are provisional and do not reflect the scale of the tragedy. “The magnitude of this event indicates that we’re going to get to much higher numbers,” he admitted. “Whole families have disappeared,” he added.
Places in shelters have been prepared for the victims who have lost a roof over their heads.
Suspended classes in schools
Ecuador’s Ministry of Education said on Tuesday in the Chunchi-Alausi district, three schools were suspended in-person classes because their infrastructure was damaged by falling stones, dirt and debris.
According to the ministry’s statement on Monday, one student died in the crash and a dozen are among the missing. 18 psychologists were sent to help students.
President Guillermo Lasso arrived in Alausi on Monday evening. On social media, he assured that the central government would make “resources necessary to help residents and families” available.
Among the measures to be taken by the government, Lasso listed the construction of a housing estate, the start of work on the reconstruction of access roads to the canton and the reconstruction of the water supply system.
There were warnings
With a population of 5,500, Alausi is considered one of the most landslide-prone areas in the country. In February this year, the government issued a yellow alert for an area of approximately 247 hectares due to observed cracks and various damage. Despite this, according to the media, the local authorities did not take any steps to protect the residents.
primicias.ec, metroecuador.com.ec, Reuters, PAP
Main photo source: PAP/EPA/Jose Jacome