QUITO (AFP, REUTERS) - At least 24 people perished in a landslide in Ecuador’s capital Quito, and 12 others were missing, Mayor Santiago Guarderas said on Tuesday (Feb 2), as rescue teams searched homes and streets covered by mud following the worst deluge in nearly two decades.
The torrential rains on Monday night caused a build-up of water in a gorge near the working class neighborhoods of La Gasca and La Comuna, sending mud and rocks down on residences and affecting electricity provision.
The country’s disaster management agency said 48 people were injured.
“We saw this immense black river that was dragging along everything, we had to climb the walls to escape,” said resident Alba Cotacachi, who evacuated her two young daughters from their home. “We are looking for the disappeared.”
Footage obtained by Reuters showed a man struggling to free himself from the muddy waters rushing down a residential street. Reuters witnesses said the man was swept away as residents screamed for help.
Other videos showed a torrent sweeping away trees, vehicles, dumpsters and even electricity poles, while some people were rescued from the muddy water by neighbours.
Authorities have not ruled out the possibility of further landslides.
The mayor’s office has set up shelters for affected families and has started clearing streets in the city.
Ecuador is facing heavy rains in several areas, which have caused rivers to overflow and affected hundreds of homes and roads.
Rains in Quito on Monday were equivalent to 75 liters per square meter, the highest in nearly two decades.
Many in the city of 2.7 million people were taken to shelters.
The 17-hour deluge caused a deluge that damaged roads, agricultural areas, clinics, schools, a police station and an electric power substation.
Quito mayor Santiago Guarderas said a downpour had overwhelmed a hillside water catchment structure that had a capacity of 4,500 cubic metres but was inundated with more than four times that volume.
The resultant failure sent a kilometre-long deluge through a sports field where volleyball players were practicing with spectators on the sidelines.
“People who were playing couldn’t get away. It grabbed them suddenly,” witness Freddy Barrios Gonzalez told AFP.
“Those who managed to run were saved (but) a family got buried” under a river of mud, added Gonzalez, his own clothes still muddy from the ordeal. “There they died.”
It was not immediately known how many of the players or spectators were among the total number of dead and injured.
Soldiers with rescue dogs were scouring the area around the field for survivors.
Quito police chief Cesar Zapata did not rule out finding more bodies under thousands of cubic metres of mud and debris left behind by the flood.
‘Rivers of mud’
Rescuer Cristian Rivera said many people in Quito had to be treated for hypothermia.
The municipality has mobilised heavy machinery to clear roads and fix the failed water catchment system.
Resident Mauro Pinas said he heard “an explosion” when the structure burst, after which “rivers of mud” descended on the city – mainly in the north-west.
Power was lost in some parts after electrical poles were brought down.
Dozens of soldiers were deployed to assist in search and rescue efforts of the police and fire brigades.
The flooding began on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano, which overlooks the nation’s capital.
President Guillermo Lasso, who traveled to China on Monday, offered his condolences on Twitter to those affected.
“We continue to work in search and rescue, containment actions, psychological care and the transfer of injured people to hospital,” he said.
Heavy rains have hit 22 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces since October, leaving at least 18 dead and 24 injured as of Sunday, according to the National Risk Management Service.
Scientists say climate change is intensifying the risk of heavy rain around the world because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.