Rescuers on Tuesday raced against time in southern Ecuador to find survivors of a weekend landslide that left at least 11 people dead and more than 60 missing.
Torrential rain overnight on Sunday triggered a mudslide that buried dozens of homes and injured 30 people in the village of Alausi about 300km south of the capital, Quito, officials said.
As hopes faded of finding survivors under the rubble, rescuers with dogs and neighbors alike worked feverishly to remove debris, some with their bare hands.
“My daughter is here, my granddaughter, my whole family,” Carlos Maquero said standing 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 “buildup of tonnes and tonnes of earth,” making it difficult to find survivors, firefighter Fernando Yanza said.
Decreasing oxygen was “the main problem” facing those still trapped, said Yanza, who had been digging down through 4m of mud looking for signs of life.
“As you dig, it becomes more dangerous,” because the ground becomes less stable, he added.
Firefighter Adriana Guzman said that removing all the rubble was nearly impossible, “and truly what is found, if it is found, will be bodies.”
The mudslide’s death toll had grown to at least 11 with 67 missing, the Ecuadoran Secretariat for Risk Management (SNGR) said in an update on Tuesday after four bodies were recovered.
“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.
Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso on Monday night visited Alausi in Chimborazo Province 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 wrote on Twitter that 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 about 45,000 people surrounded by green hills, also saw several public buildings hit by the deluge, which damaged roads and closed schools.
“We are afraid that there will be another mudslide and that we will be left with nothing,” 65-year-old resident Carmen Gavilanez said as a light rain fell on Alausi.
The story of Jacob, a black labrador desperately looking for his masters buried under the landslide, has gone viral on social networks. The dog sniffs, digs among the rubble and howls.
According to local media, only two members of the family were saved. Neighbors who recognized the dog dressed him in a green T-shirt to identify him.
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, the SNGR said.
In January last year, 17 hours of torrential rain caused a dam to collapse, with the resulting flooding killing 28 people in Quito and injuring 52 more.
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