The hopes that the trapped people will be rescued alive are fading, more than two days after the disaster
Search and rescue operations continued at a slow pace overnight Tuesday into Wednesday in Alausi, southern Ecuador, where a mudslide killed at least 11 people and left 67 residents still missing, as hopes of recovering those trapped alive faded, two days and more after the disaster.
Specially trained dogs, rescue crews and residents continued to search, cautiously, through the wreckage; a huge chunk of mountain broke off overnight Sunday into Monday in this town in Ciborasso province, about 300 kilometers south of the capital Quito, crushing dozens houses.
“It’s almost impossible to remove it all (including the debris and volumes of mud) and all we will find, if we find anything, will be bodies,” Adriana explained to AFP, without hiding her despair. Guzman, a member of the fire brigade.
Based on the latest official casualty count, the landslide killed eleven people, 67 others remain missing, while 163 houses were hit by the mudslide and rockslide in a peripheral district on the mountainside.
Survivors watched the efforts to retrieve their loved ones throughout the day yesterday, with visible transitions, sometimes angry, sometimes helpless and desperate.
“Here lies my daughter, my granddaughter, my whole family (…) Our pain is terrible,” said Carlos Macero, his face twitching, before he started shouting at the crews, asking them to search faster.
“My sisters were saved (…) but my sister-in-law didn’t make it out, she was buried with her babies,” Carmen Quiros said in despair.
As the hours pass, the hopes of finding someone alive dwindle.
There are “tons of mud” and it’s “hard for victims to survive,” said Fernando Jansa, a firefighter involved in the operation, simply. The soil that covered the houses “leaves little oxygen, that’s the main problem” for those trapped, he insisted as he emerged from a spot where an excavation was made to a depth of four meters, but no sign of life was found. “The deeper we dig, the more dangerous it is,” as the ground becomes unstable, he added.
“For as long as needed”
President Guillermo Lasso, who went to the scene on Monday night, was greeted with boos and shouts, slogans such as “down with Lasso!”
“I was able to go and see with my own eyes the search and rescue work being carried out by the rescue crews,” he commented on Twitter after meeting with local officials, assuring that the operation would continue “as long as necessary.”
In the affected area, 600 houses that were not hit by the landslide were evacuated by order of the authorities. The government opened three reception centers for those affected and left homeless.
The story of Jacob, the Labrador who continues to desperately search for his people at the site of the disaster, is widely shared on social networking sites: the dog wanders, sniffs, digs, growls, cries… According to local media, just two members of the family he lived with were saved. Neighbors who recognized him wore a light green T-shirt, on which they have written the family’s name in marker, to identify him.
The area where the tragedy unfolded had been on “yellow alert” since February due to heavy rains. The authorities had warned that there was a risk of the road being cut in two.
Because of the rains, floods and landslides, the government last week declared a state of emergency in 13 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces so that resources needed to help those affected could be released.
Even before this landslide, rains and landslides had already killed 22 people and left 346 homeless across the country since January. More than 6,900 homes were damaged and 72 were completely destroyed, according to official figures.
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