Early assessment shows earthquake damage is limited in Cuenca; Highways are most affected
Except for the collapse of a building facade that killed one and injured two others, early assessments show that Cuenca escaped catastrophic damage from Saturday’s 6.7 magnitude earthquake. “We are very fortunate that we did not have more injuries and damage,” says Tatiana Pineda, Cuenca Risk Management director.
She added that it was ironic that photos seen around the world were of the scene on Calle Sucre where falling debris killed a motorist. “Even though damage from the earthquake was worse closer to the epicenter, we became the face of the disaster because of the news media pictures. Those of us with relatives in the U.S. and Spain have been busy answering messages, saying we are fine.”
According to the latest government count, 15 died and 473 were injured in the earthquake that occurred just after noon Saturday, centered under Puna Island, south of Guayaquil. The National Risk Management Office reports that 93 homes were destroyed with another 202 severely damaged. Damage to public facilities included six bridges destroyed and “significant damage” to 69 schools and 39 hospitals and clinics. Damage to highways was still being assessed Sunday night.
In Azuay Province, landslides have closed the highways connecting Cuenca to Guayaquil through the Cajas Mountains and to Machala through Giron and Pasaje. In a statement, the Transportation Ministry reported “widespread cases of subsidence, cracks and sinkholes and slope instability near roadways.” Another concern is a landslide that temporarily blocked the flow of the Rio Chantaco near Santa Isabel.
On Sunday, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency, pledging funds to rebuild private homes and public infrastructure. He said temporary housing is being offered to those forced from their homes in El Oro, Azuay, Guayas and Santo Domingo Provinces.
The president added that the emergency declaration does not curtail personal rights.
In Sunday interviews, Pineda and other officials reported that no other structures in the historic district suffered extensive damage. “There are a number of reports of masonry cracking but most do not affect structural integrity,” said Carlos Ramos, an architecture professor at the University of Cuenca and consultant to the city. “We are still compiling information but the arial videos of Centro show most house to be intact. There will be assessments of historic buildings, including the churches, and this will take some time.” He added that the Santo Domingo church experienced “some serious cracking” during the earthquake.
Jorge Regalado, a retired geologist with Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute, agreed with Pineda that news photos of the building collapse on Calle Sucre gave the impression that Cuenca had suffered severe damage. “I had a call from a friend in Japan who saw the pictures and thought Cuenca had been destroyed,” Regalado said. “I explained that except for the one tragedy we fared very well. The situation is much worse on the coast.”
In a radio interview Sunday, Regalado explained he is not surprised Cuenca survived the earthquake with limited damage. “Geoloically, we are in an older, more settled area of the mountains,” he said. “The coastal region is much more susceptible to large earthquakes since it is where the tectonic plates meet. We feel them but the impact is not as severe.”