Police and firefighters conduct dozens of rescues as three Cuenca rivers overflow their banks

May 16, 2021 | 3 comments

Saturday night flooding from the Rio Tarqui flooded pasture land and houses.

In what the Emergency Management Office is calling the worst flooding in recent memory, heavy rain forced three Cuenca rivers over their banks on Saturday and Sunday. Officials report the Rio Tarqui registered the highest flood level ever recorded.

The overflowing Rio Yanuncay closed streets and flooded houses, leaving behind piles of debris, near the University of Azuay campus.

“This is the worst natural disaster we have faced in years and our police, firefighters and public utilities personnel are doing all they can to protect human life, livestock and property,” Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios said Saturday night. “Transportation has been stopped on most of the highways leading into town by flooding and landslides and our crews are working hard on remediation.”

On Sunday, the city opened two shelters for those left homeless by the flooding as emergency workers report that hundreds of homes near rivers suffered severe water damage and were completely destroyed in several cases.

Ecuador’s meteorological service reported that rainfall had subsided Sunday although light showers continued throughout the southern sierra. The service said that rainfall since Friday night has ranged from 2 to 5.75 centimeters, with the highest amounts falling in the higher elevation of the Cajas Mountains and in the Tarqui Valley, south of Cuenca.

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Cows in the Tarqui Valley were looking for higher ground Sunday morning.

In the Cuenca urban center, neighborhoods bordering the Rio Tarqui have seen the most damage, with the Social Cricus sector and University of Azuay area sustaining the most damage. Much of Parque Paraiso, at the confluence of the Rios Tomebamba and Yanuncay, was underwater Sunday while large areas of the linear park along the Rio Tomebamba were also flooded.

A cow stands in high water at a fence line south of Tarqui on Sunday.

“We are evaluating the damage and the losses but this will take several days. At this time, our priority is removing families from flooded homes and neighborhoods,” Palacios said.

Police and firefighters responded to almost 100 emergency calls during the weekend and were still receiving calls for help on Sunday night, in several cases removing residents through the roofs of their homes. Meanwhile, farmers worked around the clock Saturday and Sunday to rescue livestock trapped by the high water.

Officials say that the Tarqui Valley has seen hundreds of hectares of pastureland flooded, with major losses to livestock. Many homes is the area have also been flooded.

The Rio Tarqui flooded some residential neighborhoods on Cuenca’s southside Saturday and Sunday.

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