Although April rainfall in Cuenca is running well above normal, the city is being spared the devastation seen in northern parts of the country.
Severe flooding in Quito has wreaked havoc on the city´s major streets and highways, destroying dozens of cars and buses, while landslides have killed six in the Otavalo and Cotacachi area. Even worse flooding is occuring in Colombia and Venezuela, according to meteorologists. The rainy conditions, they say, are the result of the La Niña effect in the Pacific Ocean. Although there will be breaks in the weather in coming days, experts say that the general rainy pattern will continue into early May.
In Cuenca, rains have caused major traffic headaches and power outages and filled the city´s rivers to capacity. Local flooding, authorities say, has so far been minor. Several communities east of Cuenca, including Gualaceo, have experienced more serious river flooding.
Oswaldo Ramírez, spokesman for the Cuenca Fire Department, asked local residents to take precautions during the frequent rain storms, especially when driving. He also said that parts of several local parks have been flooded and are currently cordoned off.
He added that tourists should avoid hiking in nearby mountains until rains subside. “We have had to send several teams into the Cajas National Park to find lost hikers since the beginning of the month,” he said. “We brought back four students on Monday who had lost their trail and on Tuesday we had another report of a missing person in the park.”
Historically, Cuenca recieves about four and half inches of rain in April, the city´s wettest month. So far, almost eight inches of rain have fallen in April 2011.
CENTRAL BANK SAYS THAT NEW LOCAL CURRENCY IS “FUNNY MONEY”
The Chairman of the Central Bank of Ecuador, Diego Borja, says that the so-called Solidarity Exchange Unit (UDI) currency being circulated in Azuay and Cotopaxi provinces has no official status with his institution.
"The cooperatives using the UDI currency are not regulated or controlled by the central back and their bank notes only have value between participating vendors,” Borja said. “The official currency of Ecuador is the United States dollar.”
Borja added that customers who use the UDI currency must understand that it has no official value. “If this money is brought to banks, it will not be honored,” he says.
Borja added that the central bank is investigating those who are promoting the new currency and says legal action is possible.
LOCAL BUS AND TAXI DRIVERS WILL NOT JOIN APR. 25 NATIONAL STRIKE
Members of the Federation of Professional Drivers of Azuay Province have voted not to join the national strike set for Monday, April 25. The union represents most of the country´s taxi and bus drivers.
The national union is protesting tougher traffic enforcement of driving laws that it claims specifically targets transport workers. They claim that higher fines and penalties will make it difficult for bus and taxi drivers to make a living. In addition to a work stoppage, the union plans to block major roads around the country.
Although the local union supports the overall aim of the national organization, it says that more study is needed before a work stoppage is called. “We are reviewing with our lawyers the impact of new traffic requirements,” said Azuay union representative, Messiah Vicuña.
National Traffic and Road Safety director, Ricardo Antón, defended the tougher penalties for reckless drivers and called on all drivers to obey the law. “Public transport drivers have been some of the worst offenders of traffic laws,” he says. “It is time they obey the law like everyone else.”
LAN ADDS NON-STOP ECUADOR TO BUENOS AIRES FLIGHTS
LAN Airlines has announced that new non-stop service between Ecuador and Buenos Aires will begin May 2. The Monday, Thursday, and Saturday flights will orginate in Quito, with a stop in Guayaquil, before proceeding to Argentina.
LAN has announced a promotional price of $549 for flights during the month of May.
According to Benjamin Moreno, Sales Manager of LAN Ecuador, the new flight is intended primarily for two markets: tourists and business people.
"Argentina is very popular with Ecuadorian businessmen and tourists,” says Moreno. “It is also very popular with Ecuadorian university students and thousands of them study in Argentina. We expect excellent results from the new route.”
Photo caption: Ecuador´s Central Bank says new currency is not legal tender.