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Race against time to save dozens missing after Ecuador mudslide

ALAUSÍ (Ecuador) — Rescuers raced against time in southern Ecuador to find survivors of a weekend landslide that left at least eight people dead and more than 70 missing.

Torrential rain overnight Sunday triggered a mudslide that buried dozens of homes and injured 30 people in the village of Alausi some 300 kilometres south of the capital Quito, officials said.

As hopes faded of finding survivors under the rubble, rescuers with dogs and neighbours alike worked feverishly at removing debris, some with their bare hands.

“My daughter is here, my granddaughter, my whole family,” Carlos Maquero told AFP among the ruins, desperate for a breakthrough.

“I want you to understand the pain we’re going through,” the 40-year-old merchant said.

The same region was hit by an earthquake just over a week earlier in which 15 people were killed.

There is a “build-up of tons and tons of earth,” making it difficult to find survivors, Fernando Yanza, a firefighter working to rescue those trapped, told AFP.

Decreasing oxygen was “the main problem” facing those still trapped, added Yanza, who had been digging down through four metres of mud looking for signs of life.

“As you dig, it becomes more dangerous” because the ground becomes less stable, he added.

Another firefighter, Adriana Guzman, said removing all the rubble was nigh impossible, “and truly what is found, if it is found, will be bodies.”

A total of 71 people were still missing by Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

“We feel powerless not being able to do anything,” said Carmen Quiroz, whose sister-in-law “was buried” along with several others, including infants, under the mud.

‘As long as it takes’

President Guillermo Lasso visited Alausi, in Chimborazo province, on Monday night where he was met with jeers of “Lasso out!” by some who felt the tragedy could have been avoided.

Lasso held a meeting with local authorities and later tweeted the rescue efforts would go on “as long as is necessary.”

The army is also taking part in the operation.

The government opened three shelters for those affected by the landslide, which covered an area of more than 24 hectares.

More than 160 homes were damaged.

Alausi, a town of some 45,000 people surrounded by green hills, also saw several public buildings hit by the deluge, which damaged roads and closed schools.

As a light rain fell on Alausi, resident Carmen Gavilanez, 65, told AFP: “We are afraid that there will be another mudslide and that we will be left with nothing.”

The area affected by Sunday’s disaster had been in a designated yellow alert risk zone since February following other landslides.

After months of heavy rains, the government last week declared a two-month state of emergency in 13 of the country’s 24 provinces, allowing economic resources to be redistributed to affected areas.

Since the start of the year, heavy rains in Ecuador had caused the deaths of 22 people, destroyed 72 homes and damaged more than 6,900 residences before Sunday’s landslide, according to the SNGR risk management secretariat.

In January 2022, 17 hours of torrential rain caused a dam to collapse, with the resulting flooding killing 28 people in Quito and injuring 52 more. — AFP

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