Rescuers faced a race against time in southern Ecuador on Tuesday to find survivors of a landslide that has left seven people dead and more than 60 missing, according to the latest official toll.
Torrential rain overnight from Sunday to Monday set off a mudslide that buried dozens of homes and injured 23 people in the village of Alausi in Chimborazo province, some 300 kilometers (180 miles) south of Quito, officials said.
It is the same region that was hit by an earthquake just over a week earlier in which 15 people were killed.
There is a “buildup of tons and tons of earth,” making it difficult to find survivors, Fernando Yanza, a firefighter working to rescue those trapped, told AFP.
The buildup of earth “takes away the small amount of space for oxygen and that’s the main problem” facing those who are trapped, added Yanza, who had been digging down through four meters of mud looking for signs of life.
“As you dig, it becomes more dangerous” because the ground becomes less stable, he added.
A total of 64 people were still missing on Tuesday morning, with 163 homes affected by the landslide.
President Guillermo Lasso visited Alausi on Monday night where he was met by jeers and shouts of “Lasso out!” by some locals who felt that the tragedy could have been avoided.
“I could see first-hand the search and rescue work being carried out by experts,” Lasso said on Twitter, following a meeting with local authorities.
Lasso said the rescue efforts would go on “as long as is necessary.”
The army, which is taking part in the rescue, shared a video of soldiers pulling a white dog from the mud.
The government activated three shelters for those affected by the landslide, which covers an area of more than 24 hectares.
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.
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 the affected areas.
Since the start of the year, heavy rains in Ecuador had already caused the deaths of 22 people, destroyed 72 homes and damaged more than 6,900 residences before Sunday’s disaster, 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 the capital Quito and injuring another 52 more.