Dozens of oceanside tiendas and food stands, from Jambelí in El Oro Province in the south, to Esmeraldas in the north, have been damaged or destroyed by recent tidal surges and business owners worry that many more are in danger. They are asking for assistance from the government.
In addition, fishermen, who say their livelihoods have already been hurt by El Niño, city and transportation officials are also concerned, as fishing boats, cleaning shacks, houses and highways have been destroyed or damaged.
“We’re very concerned about what will happen in the coming months because we are seeing the sea at higher levels than we have ever seen it before. We live in total uncertainty,” says Gabriela Cruz, president of the association of artisanal fishermen in Santa Elena Province. Cruz says the fear is not only on the shore. “We have lost fishing vessels because of strong waves at sea and they are getting stronger.”
On Monday, Ministry of Transportation crews were busy shoring up the highway in several locations along the coast due to erosion from high tides. In Santa Elena Province, where the main north-south highway has been undermined, truckloads of rockfill are being poured into the surf to keep the ocean off the roadway and allow temporary repairs to be made.
Reacting to demands that the highway be relocated in several locations, the ministry says its immediate concern will be to keep roads open. “With El Niño approaching, now is not the time for major road work,” a ministry spokesman said. “We will conduct an evaluation after the weather returns to normal to decide on future projects.”
Municipal governments in all coastal provinces also seem resigned to waiting out the weather before they attempt repairs. “This will get worse before it gets better so there is no use making repairs that will be washed away,” said the town public works director in El Mantal, on the central coast.
Dozens of communities have seen high tides over-wash sidewalks and streets and threaten houses and condos. One of the more serious situations is in Salinas, where water has damaged several high-rise condominiums.
An expert for the Navy’s Oceanographic Institute (INOCAR) says that higher surf is coming. “This could get much worse and we must be prepared for major damage,” says Carlos Perugachi.
Perugachi says the high water is the result of several factors. “First, El Niño has raised the temperature of ocean water, which means the water expands and the ocean level rises. In addition, higher temperatures creates stronger wave action and more storms.”
He adds that the most serious damage during the El Niño will probably occur during periods of exceptionally high tides, February 9 to 14, March 9 to 12, and April 8 to 12.