Nearly 50 missing, 7 dead in Ecuador landslide

A aerial view shows the site of a landslide triggered by heavy rains in Alausi, Ecuador on March 27, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

ALAUSI, Ecuador - Rescuers and neighbours were on Monday searching for nearly 50 people reported missing after a landslide triggered by months of heavy rainfall killed at least seven in Ecuador’s south.

The mudslide happened late on Sunday night, burying dozens of homes and injuring 23 people, officials said.

The government’s communications secretariat revised the initial confirmed death toll down from 16 in the village of Alausi in Chimborazo province, some 300km south of the capital.

Rescuers and civilians, aided by dogs, were seen on Monday trying to clear debris by hand to get to any survivors.

In some areas, most houses were completely buried by earth, according to a Reuters witness. One stadium was completely buried after the mudslide, while another venue used for sports and music events collapsed.

Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso said on Twitter that firefighters from neighbouring areas had been rushed to the village of “to attend to the affected citizens”.

The government said it had mobilised the national police, armed forces, the health ministry and the Red Cross to help with the rescue efforts.

“We have activated temporary accommodation and mobilised sleeping kits for those that have lost their homes,” said a government statement on Twitter.

In all, 500 people and 163 houses were affected, the agency said.

“We have had to witness a terrible tragedy,” Transport Minister Dario Herrera told Reuters in Alausi. “The first thing is to attend to and evacuate people from the houses.”

Since the start of the year, heavy rains in Ecuador have caused the deaths of 22 people, destroyed 72 homes and damaged more than 6,900, according to the SNGR risk management secretariat.

The downpours have caused close to 1,000 dangerous events, such as landslides and flooding.

The area affected by Sunday’s disaster had been in a designated “yellow alert” risk zone since February following other landslides.

Sunday’s landslide came just over a week after 15 people, including a Peruvian, were killed when a strong quake struck in Ecuador’s south-western border region with Peru.

The earthquake, registered at a magnitude of 6.5 by local authorities, caused 22 landslides that blocked roads in the provinces of El Oro and Azuay.

Rescuers search for victims after a landslide in Alausi, Ecuador, on March 27, 2023. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Afterwards, the government declared a two-month state of emergency in 13 of the country’s 24 provinces, allowing economic resources to be redistributed to affected areas.

In February, heavy rains forced oil pumping in the country to be suspended for five days for safety checks over fears that a major oil pipeline could have been damaged by the collapse of a bridge.

Ecuador’s Andean valleys can have a rainy season that lasts from October until May. AFP, REUTERS

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