Rescue efforts turn to recovery in Alausí while a new landslide alert is issued in the Yunguilla valley

Apr 1, 2023 | 1 comment

The death toll from Sunday’s landslide in Alausí rose to 24 Friday as rescue crews say they have little hope of finding more survivors in the 24-hectare rubble field.

Rescue workers remove the body of a landslide victim on Friday.

In addition to the dead, 39 people are listed as injured with 67 still missing. According to the Risk Management Secretariat, the count of missing people remains a “moving target” since it relies on information from family and friends of possible victims. “There may also be individuals living in the landslide zone without family to report their whereabouts,” the secretariat said.

For the first time, the Transportation Ministry said it is possible that vehicles on roads in the slide zone, including the Pan American highway, may have been engulfed in the landslide. More than 150 meters of the Pan American highway (E35) were destroyed.  A family of four, traveling between Cuenca and Riobamba Sunday night has been reported missing, the ministry said.

On Thursday and Friday, recovery work was suspended on several occasions by rain and the fear of additional landslides above the work area. Rescue team members were posted at several locations above the slide area to watch for new earth movements.

Fissures began to appear on a hillside near Santa Isabel in January.

As work continued in Alausí, the Risk Management Secretariat issued a yellow alert for a large section of land near Santa Isabel, southeast of Cuenca. On Friday, at least a dozen families left their homes in a 526-hectare “risk area” in the Santa Isabel canton. According to Risk Management inspectors, large fissures have opened in “multiple locations” of the area. At least five structures and a community center have been damaged by the land movement.

According to inspectors, fissures and cracks were first observed in an area twice the size of the Alausí risk zone in mid-January.

Santa Isabel Mayor Ernesto Guerrero called the situation “alarming and very disturbing” because the risk zone encompasses the entire community of La Cría. “There are about 80 families living here and because of what happened in Alausí, they are very scared and some have already left.”

Cracks have expanded in recent weeks at a school near Santa Isabel.

He said his staff is working with the Azuay Province Prefecture to complete a land review. “We need a more detailed geologic survey but that is expensive and we don’t have much time to make a decision. I hope the national government will assume the responsibility.

He added that a large landslide could shut down the Minas-San Francisco hydroelectric plant on the Rio Jobones.

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