Emergency personnel worked through the night Sunday looking for survivors of a mudslide that destroyed homes and blocked roads in Marianza, in the hills above Sayausí. At least four people were reported killed.
The mudslide and flooding followed intense rains that overflowed the Rio Tomebamba and creeks flowing into the river. Several roads and the highway through the Cajas were blocked or destroyed by the slide.
At 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios said that almost 300 rescue workers were on the scene or en route, including firefighters, police and military personnel. “Our first job is to find those trapped in their homes and those whose homes have been destroyed,” he said. “We also understand that some people who tried to escape by car have not been accounted for.”
Palacios said that heavy equipment was on the scene, working to clear debris, and that the city has requested more from the Transportation Ministry. “This is a truly catastrophic event and it will take days to clear the mud, rocks and trees,” he said. “Right now, our objective is to find the missing and take care of people who have been left homeless.”
In addition to firefighters, police and military personnel, employees of the Ecuador Social Security Institute, the Ministry of Public Health and the Ecuador Red Cross were helping with resue efforts.
Residents of Marianza say the mudslide began about 3:30 Sunday afternoon, the result of an intense rain storm over western Cuenca. “We heard the rumble of rocks outside the house and when we went out there were were trees and buildings flowing down the mountain,” said Maria Diaz, who escaped with her husband. “We came down by another path and I don’t know what happened to our house and all our animals. They say we cannot go back until Monday afternoon.”
At least 10 vehicles on the Cajas highway were trapped by multiple landslides, many of the drivers and passengers walking through hundreds of yards of mud and rocks to safety in Sayausí. Transportation officials were on the scene early Monday but said they did not know when the highway will reopen.
Late Sunday night, the Cuenca utility company, ETAPA, warned city residents not to drink water if it is muddy, saying that a drinking water holding facility near Sayausí was affected by the flooding. “We are identifying the neighborhoods where there is contamination and will provide more information Monday morning,” ETAPA said in a statement.
The mudslides disrupted internet service to more than 100,000 Cuenca customers Sunday afternoon and evening after a relay station was damaged. ETAPA said almost all of its customers were back on line by 10 p.m.Sunday.