Intense Saturday afternoon thunderstorms closed highways, flooded houses and destroyed vehicles and crops in areas to the east and west of Cuenca.
The Cuenca-Pasaje highway connecting Azuay with El Oro Provinces was closed for two hours as three landslides blocked the roadway. As of early evening, one lane was opened to traffic.
Another storm flooded the Rio Pungohuayco between Gualaceo and Chordeleg, sending water into several homes and destroying at least four vehicles. Several hectares of recently planted crops were also destroyed by the flood. An accompanying hail storm covered areas north of Gualaceo in as much as four inches of ice, also damaging crops.
According to the national meteorological service, the unsettled weather is expected to continue early next week. The service blames the weather pattern on the La Niña phenomenon in the Pacific ocean, which is also bringing cooler temperatures and more cloud-cover to the inter-Andean valley region of the country.
Single ride tram prices increase next week
Beginning Friday, January 1, the single ride ticket price for Cuenca’s tram returns to its original $1. Due to low ridership and other factors, the municipal council reduced the price to 30 cents in October.
Tram director Carolina Ormaza believes the reduced price is no longer necessary due to the increase of ridership and purchases of pre-loaded electronic cards in recent months. “When we lowered the price, ridership was less than 6,000 a day and there were only 8,000 card holders,” she said. “Today, ridership is above 20,000 and we’ve sold more than 32,000 cards. The single ticket was intended for those who ride the train infrequently, not for regular passengers, and now that we have sold more cards we feel comfortable returning to the original plan.”
Most card-holder pay 30 cents per ride while those over 65, students and the disabled pay 15 cents.
Ormaza says she is pleased with the increase in tram use. “Of course, this has been a difficult year for starting the service. We have been forced to reduce capacity due to the pandemic and have been forced to delay integrating the tram and bus systems. We look forward to better things in 2021.”
Suicides double since 2019
The number of suicides in Azuay Province have doubled from January to November 2020 compared with the same period of 2019 and, according to a psychologist who works with ECU 911 emergency services, the increase is the result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to ECU 911, there have been 93 suicides in the province this year while there were 44 last year.
Psychologist Ramiro Gonzalez says the actual number is much higher since many deaths by suicide are assigned other causes. “Locally, we are following the international trend of much higher rates of suicide as a result of the pandemic as cases of depression and other mental disorders have risen,” says Gonzalez. “Social distancing and other measures taken to combat the virus exact a high toll on mental health.”
Guayaquil mayor wants ban on UK travelers
Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri is asking President Lenín Moreno to prohibit the entry into the Ecuador of travelers from the United Kingdom. She cites the threat of a new, more contagious variant of Covid-19 currently circulating in the UK as well as increase of Covid cases in Guayas Province. “We must do what other countries have done and temporarily stop the entry of people traveling from the UK,” she said. “This is essential to preserve the health of our communities.”
Last week, Ecuador imposed a requirement for a negative Covid test result at the airports in Quito and Guayaquil for travelers arriving from the UK but decided against a ban. Other countries in the region, including Argentina, Colombia and Peru, have ordered a stop to all flights from the UK until further notice.