A day after one lane of the Cajas highway had been opened to bring supplies to residents west of Sayausí, new landslides made it impassable again. Heavy rains Friday afternoon also caused flooding in downtown Cuenca and temporarily pushed the Tomebamba and Yanuncay rivers to flood stage.
New landslides, covered much of the highway with three to four feet of additional debris and forced heavy machinery to seek shelter in unaffected areas. “We were beginning to open both lanes but the afternoon rain was heavy and created new landslides,” said Luis Barzallo, regional director of the Transportation Ministry. “We will resume work on Saturday but our progress depends of the weather.”
Barzallo added that last Sunday’s landslide scoured out several hundred meters of the mountainside, allowing more mud and rocks to slide down with successive rains. “The geomorphology of the area has changed and there’s no vegetation left to stop new material from coming down. It’s a dangerous situation and we can’t rule out more large scale collapses.”
The Cuenca transit department and firefighters were called to several flooded streets Friday afternoon to rescue motorists stalled in high water. Several cars suffered major damage in flooding on roads near Hospital del Rio, according to EMOV agents. The westbound lanes of the Azogues autopista was closed to traffic for about two hours due to flooding late Friday.
The mudslides and rain continues to plague the city’s drinking water service. On Friday night, utility company ETAPA reported that about 50,000 homes were without water. “The situation was improving Wednesday and Thursday but Friday’s storm overloaded two water processing plants in the Cajas Mountain watershed,” ETAPA said. Outflow from the large Cruz Verde holding ponds, above Sayausí, was shut off on Friday afternoon but was restored Saturday morning.
ETAPA said most of the service outage was in southwest Cuenca. Two hospitals, Santa Inez and Monte Sinai, are among the large customers that have required water delivery by tanker truck.
The Ecuador Meteorology office said Friday that the Cuenca canton has received eight times the average seasonal rainfall since March 15. It predicted more rain over the weekend.