Landslides threaten homes, strand motorists as flooding and cold temperatures plague the sierra

Jun 24, 2019 | 9 comments

Relief is on the way, the weatherman says.

The temperature was a chilly 11 degrees Celsius Sunday on Av. 12 de Abril. (El Tiempo)

The heavy rains that have triggered landslides and flooding in Ecuador’s sierra and inter-mountain valley should slack off by mid-week, according to Ecuador’s meteorological service. In addition, cold temperatures that have gripped much of the region should begin to moderate.

More than 50 families were staying in temporary shelters near Baños de Ambato Sunday night due to river flooding that damaged or threatens their homes. Due to a Saturday landslide, several homes on a cliff overlooking the Rio Verde are in danger of collapsing, according to risk management officers.

East of Quito and Ambato, as many as 100 bus and car passengers have been trapped between landslides, some for as long as 48 hours. At least seven highways are affected, including the major routes connecting Quito and the Amazon. Rescue workers were at several locations Sunday but say it could be another day before they can reach all stranded passengers and motorists.

Houses on the brink in Baños de Ambato following a Saturday landslide.

The country’s ECU 911 service says it has reports that several vehicles have been buried by landslides or pushed over cliffs.

Unseasonably cold temperatures are also creating problems in much of the sierra. Icy roads in the Cajas Mountains, west of Cuenca, are blamed for several accidents and transit police are recommending that motorists use extreme caution at elevations about 3,800 meters (12,500 feet). Light snow was reported at higher elevations of the Cajas Sunday night.

The radar station in Cajas National Park was out of service for two hours Sunday morning due to ice build-up.

In Chimborazo Province, the cold weather is being blamed for the deaths of two farm workers.

The radar station in the Cajas Mountains was covered with snow and ice Sunday.

In Cuenca, the high temperature reached only 11 degrees C (52 Fahrenheit) on Saturday and Sunday, four degrees below normal. The Monday morning low at the San Blas Plaza weather station was 2 degrees (36F). At the weather station at Cajas National Park, Saturday and Sunday morning temperatures dipped to -4 degrees (24F).

According to Froilán Salinas of the Cuenca risk management weather office, the cooler temperature have arrived earlier than usual this year. “We usually have a few days like this in July or August but this cold spell is early,” he says. “The situation is exaggerated because of the persistent cloud cover over the inter-mountain region.” He adds that residents should expect two or three more days of the unseasonably cool temperatures.

“We will enter the winter dry period within the next week or two and the rain will end and temperatures will moderate,” Salinas says. “The dry season will continue to October or November.”

Salinas explains that several factors are responsible for the cold temperatures. “The major one is the Pacific Antarctic (Humboldt) Current which runs strongest this time of year, bringing up cold water from the polar region.”

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