Rescuers searched Monday for more than 60 people reported missing after a landslide in southern Ecuador caused by months of heavy rain killed at least seven people.
According to officials, the mudslide occurred overnight Sunday into Monday, burying scores of homes and injuring 23 people in the village of Alausi in Chimborazo region, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) south of Quito.
Residents were shocked and in tears as crews with shovels, pick axes, and sniffer dogs combed through the rubble to find survivors trapped under sheets of twisted metal and splintered tree trunks.
“Five are buried here,” Manuel Upai, a 40-year-old laborer, told AFP, referring to relatives of his as he stared at the muddy ground.
Alausi, a village of some 45,000 people surrounded by green hills, also saw several public buildings hit by the avalanche, which damaged roads and closed three schools.
“I managed to escape with about 15 minutes to spare,” survivor Jose Agualsaca told local TV network Teleamazonas, saying he was rushing to get things out of his house before the mud came.
Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso announced on Twitter that firefighters from surrounding areas had been dispatched to the town to assist those affected by the disaster.
He encouraged everyone to leave the impacted areas.
To assist with the rescue efforts, the government activated the national police, military forces, the health ministry, and the Red Cross.
“We have activated temporary accommodation and mobilized sleeping kits for those that have lost their homes,” said a government statement on Twitter.
– Landslides, floods –
According to the SNGR risk management secretariat, torrential rains in Ecuador have killed 22 people, destroyed 72 dwellings, and damaged over 6,900 households since the beginning of the year.
The heavy rains have produced around 1,000 catastrophic occurrences, including landslides and flooding.
Following previous landslides, the area affected by Sunday’s disaster had been designated as a yellow alert risk zone since February.
The avalanche on Sunday occurred barely over a week after a severe earthquake devastated Ecuador’s southwestern border region with Peru, killing 15 people.
Local authorities assigned a magnitude of 6.5 to the earthquake, which caused 22 landslides in the provinces of El Oro and Azuay.
Following that, the government proclaimed a state of emergency in 13 of the country’s 24 provinces for two months, allowing economic resources to be reallocated to afflicted areas.
Heavy rains in February led the country’s oil pumping to be halted for five days for safety checks due to concerns that a major oil pipeline could have been damaged by the collapse of a bridge.
The rainy season in Ecuador’s Andes valleys can run from October to May.