Landslides, floods and volcanic ashfall plague the region as La Niña rains are forecast to continue
On Thursday afternoon, transportation officials announced that the highway connecting Cuenca and Guayaquil through the Cajas Mountains was closed until further notice. “The landslides have been unrelenting and we are simply unable to keep the road open for sustained periods of time,” said Jorge Castro, an engineer with the regional mobility office. “We hope to reopen on Friday but until the rain stops we will be in a continuous crisis with passage impaired or completely stopped.”
The national meteorology service offers little hope. “Rain will continue throughout the inter-mountain valley at least through the weekend,” the service says. “Rain will be intermittent, with periods of dry weather, but local communities are advised that the risk of floods, rockfalls and landslides continue.”
In Cuenca on Thursday, flooding was reported at all four of the city’s rivers, with banks collapsing in several locations. Parts of Parque Paraíso was closed due to flooding at the confluence of the Rios Tomebamba and Yanuncay. In other areas of town, streets were closed as rivers overflowed their banks. One drowning death has been confirmed as a result of flooding and two others are suspected. Police are warning residents to stay away from river banks.
In addition to closures of the Guayaquil highway, the transportation office says the Cuenca-to-Machala highway has experienced a series of closures due to landslides. The highway is one of the alternative routes to Guayaquil, as is the Zhud-Cochancay-El Triunfo-Guayaquil route, which has also experienced closures.
E35, the north-south highway connecting Cuenca to Loja and Quito has remained open although temporary closures have been reported due to landslides.
“If you are traveling anywhere in the region, you should expect delays,” Castro says, “and it is possible that some of them will be lengthy.” He added that drivers should remain alert for rocks on the roadway.
In addition to landslides and flooding, areas to the north of Cuenca continue to receive heavy to moderate ashfall from the erupting Sangay volcano. On Thursday night, Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute issued an ashfall warning for Guayas, Manabí and Tungurahua Provinces and extended an earlier warning for Chimborazo Province. The institute reports an eruption of moderate strength continues at Sangay and that ash clouds are moving west from the volcano in Morona Santiago Province.
The institute also reported that the danger for Cañar and Azuay Provinces has reduced due to the strong westward flow of upper air currents. Local communities in the affected area are warning residents to stay indoors if possible.