Powerful Tuesday afternoon thunderstorm leaves thousands without water and power service

Jan 30, 2019

A torrential thunderstorm knocked out power and water service to more than half of Cuenca’s population Tuesday afternoon. Although most electric service to the 35,000 affected accounts had been restored by midnight, utility provider ETAPA said 300,000 customers were still without water early Wednesday morning due to a value malfunction caused by flooding.

Heavy rain flooded dozens of city streets Tuesday afternoon. (El Tiempo)

Flooding was also reported in low-lying homes and in dozens of city streets.

A spokesman for the national meteorology institute Tweeted that the intensity of the rainfall at about 5 p.m. Tuesday was the strongest he had ever seen. “In 12 years as a meteorologist I have never observed radar showing this strength of rain,” he said, adding the most intense rainfall appeared to be in the historic district.

A rain gauge at the provincial government office on Parque Calderon recorded 108 milliliters (4.25 inches) in an hour and 20 minutes.

The water service outage occurred when a valve connecting the city’s Tixán and El Cebollar water plants shorted out. “Customers in a large area of the city are affected by the problem and we are working to restore service as quickly as possible,” ETAPA said in a statement. “By Wednesday morning, we believe service will be restored to all but about 120,000 residents.”

Restoration of water service is complicated, ETAPA says, by several large projects that are underway to replace pipes. “Many of the work sites were flooded and now we have to overcome this problem as well,” ETAPA said. The pipe replacement had generated hundreds of recent complaints about discoloration of water due to the work.

The city fire department warned residents to stay away from river banks due to high flow levels. Rio Machángara, on the north side of the city, had overflowed its banks in a number of locations, the department said.

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