250,000 without drinking water following Sayausi landslides; Search for more bodies continues
More than 250,000 Cuencanos, about a third of the city’s population, were without drinking water at midday Monday and officials say service may not be fully restored until midnight at the earliest. The public utility ETAPA said the shutoff was due to contamination suffered in Sunday’s landslides on the west side of the city. It added that water service will be interrupted on a “revolving basis” in Cuenca neighborhoods throughout the day.
ETAPA said three water processing facilities in the Cajas Mountains watershed, the El Cebollar, San Pedro and Culebrillas plants, were affected by Sunday’s landslides and flooding. “The flooding has generated turbidity in our treatment ponds and we must allow settlement before we can reopen the valves,” an ETAPA official said. He added that there was no indication of bacterial contamination in the water flowing into homes, even if it discolored. “All water coming into residences has been treated.”
ETAPA also reported that some internet customers were continuing to have connectivity problems that should be resolved by early afternoon.
Meanwhile, rescue efforts were ongoing in Marianza- Sayausi area Monday, the site of the largest mudslide. There were several smaller slides to the west of Sayausi, blocking the Cajas highway.
Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios says there are several people still missing in the Marianza area but admitted confusion about the exact number. “We are searching collapsed structures and debris for bodies but hope most of the missing have found safety,” he said. He added that the official death toll remains four. “We have evacuated about 400 people from Marianza and the hills just above Sayausi due instability of the ground,” he said. “Our big concern today is that we receive more rain which could trigger more ground movement.”
National Minister of Transportation Marcelo Cabrera visited the site Monday morning and announced an emergency declaration for the Cajas highway. “Work crews and heavy machinery are at the affected areas and are ready to work but we need to wait until all slide activity subsides,” he said. “We estimate that 40,000 tons of rock and mud are covering the highway and this will take time to clear.”
Cabrera, a former Cuenca mayor, said it is too early to estimate when the highway can reopen. “Once we clear the debris, we may discover damage to the roadway, which will need to be repaired.”