A year after the deadly landslide, relief comes slowly to Alausí and the risk remains

Mar 26, 2024 | 0 comments

One year after 75 people died in an avalanche in Alausí, the town in the Ecuadorian Andes is recovering little by little with the efforts of its residents, who continue to live amid the danger of new landslides while they wait for official aid for reconstruction.

Residents of Alausí express frustration at the lack of government help to rebuild from the 2023 landslide.

On the night of Mar. 26, 2023, thousands of tons of earth buried more than 50 houses, a school and a football stadium. It took relief agencies nearly three months to rescue the bodies amid the pain and anguish of relatives and neighbors, who joined in the work.

Now, in the avalanche area, grass has begun to cover the land that swallowed part of the population.

“With our machinery we have done some stabilization to protect the homes that were left (safe),” Alausí Mayor Remigio Roldán tells EFE.

Without a “concrete response from the State,” he says, Alausí has joined forces with universities and non-governmental organizations “to solve various problems left by the landslide,” such as the destruction of a water conduction system that provides for 8,000 people.

“Thanks to the European Union, we are receiving funding of nearly two million dollars for the new collection, conduction and repowering system of the drinking water treatment plant,” reports Roldán.

Relief workers search for bodies in Alausí following the March 2023 landslide.

The mayor highlights the efforts of residents to rehabilitate an important road that connects the south with the center of the Andean region of Ecuador, where they have opened a path through the middle of ‘ground zero’ using picks and shovels. In addition, they require about $18 million to stabilize the slope of the entire perimeter of the landslide.

“We cannot let it stay as it is. At the top of the landslide we have two communities that do not have a sewage system, we still have septic tanks, the problem is still latent,” he points out.

For this reason, in February they took advantage of the visit of a group of ambassadors from European countries, led by the EU Ambassador Charles-Michel Geurts, to explain the situation, since the diplomats visited the province of Chimborazo – to which Alausí belongs – to analyze potential aid in various sectors.

Geurts highlighted the admiration they have for Alausí, for its people, resilience and vision of the future, while his French counterpart, Frédéric Desagneaux, mentioned the EU’s willingness to support the restoration of Alausí.

A wide-angle view of Alausi shows the extent of landslide damage.

The mayor puts the avalanche death toll at 75 and adds that they have not been able to rescue nine “who were left in the rubble” in an area where 163 families lived.

According to the latest official report of the tragedy, published in November by the Risk Management Secretariat, there are 65 dead and 10 who are officially listed as “disappeared.”

The victims reached 800 people. “Some have had to emigrate, some are renting apartments, rooms, others are with relatives,” Roldán says.

People have not been allowed to return to houses left standing on the banks of the avalanche.

“We do not want to lose more lives. We warn that the problem is still latent, we have a part (in which) the cracks continue to give way.”

“We demand that the government provide housing,” Roldán emphasizes, adding that the investment of $1.5 million has been budgeted for the construction of 57 homes and, although they have the land to carry out the works, they have not moved forward because of a change in government, which since Nov. 23 has been led by President Daniel Noboa.

Outside the avalanche area, there are two schools with 800 students who cannot return to their classrooms if the slope is not stabilized.

“We are improvising in other infrastructures that were abandoned so that the children can receive classes,” he says.
Roldán insists that, although residents are at risk in Alausí, they gave received little support from the government for repair of roads and housing.

“We have to adjust to living in the midst of this reality, making all our efforts as a small government (mayor), as communities, as organizations,” he says.
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Credit: La Prensa Latina

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