As more bodies were recovered Tuesday afternoon and the death toll rose to 23, government officials are blaming uncontrolled development for Monday’s flooding in Quito’s La Gasca neighborhood.
“This didn’t need to happen if the city planning office had done its job over the years,” said Cristopher Velasco, president of the Ecuadorian Association of Risk Management Professionals. “Construction was allowed in areas where it should have been prohibited, on unstable hillsides that were needed as watershed.”
In addition to those confirmed dead in the flooding, Quito Mayor Santiago Guarderas said 20 people remained unaccounted for Tuesday afternoon and 48 more were injured, many of them in local hospitals. Guarderas says the flooding was caused by “historically heavy” rainfall that collapsed a reservoir dam in the El Tejado ravine above La Gasca.
He agreed with Velasco that poor planning played a major role in the disaster. “There was another flood in La Gasca in 1975 and the measures to correct the problems at that time were not carried out,” he said. “If they had been, many lives would have been saved. This is only partly a natural disaster. It is also a man-made disaster.”
According to Valasco, Quito’s geography poses major challenges for growth. “Much of the city is surrounding by very steep slopes and deed ravines. When there is substantial rainfall, such as we had Monday, the water funnels into neighborhoods built on the hillsides. It is critically important that construction be limited in these areas to maintain the stability of land as well as to absorb the water.”
According to police and firefighters, flood waters reached heights of three meters on some La Gasca streets and the force of the flood pushed vehicles and debris hundreds of meters downstream. “Tragically, some people tried to drive through the rising flood waters and drowned in their cars,” Guarderas said. “Just as tragic, several residents died in the ground floor of their homes.”
National Risk Management officials said that flood damage was not confined to Quito and La Gasca. Other areas of Quito and Pichincha Province also suffered, as did towns in Cotopaxi Province.