What was once a search-and rescue operation is now focused on finding the bodies of those who lost their lives on March 27, 2023.
A little more than one month after a 24.3-hectare macroslide claimed the lives of 50 people, the town of Alausí in the province of Chimborazo is still reeling from the tragedy. Rescue efforts are ongoing as families hope for closure and the opportunity to offer their loved ones a proper burial.
María Mishqui is one of many relatives of the victims who frequent the information point of relief agencies, hoping for news about their loved ones. She recently received some comfort when firefighters recovered the body of one of her four children who lost their lives in the landslide. Despite her exhaustion and sadness, she remains hopeful that all her relatives will be found.
Blanca Maurisaca, who lost her sister-in-law and six nephews, also traveled to Alausí to join the search efforts. She hopes to identify the location of her sister-in-law’s house and to assist in the search for the bodies of her loved ones.
However, the search efforts are dangerous, as the area of the tragedy remains unstable.
Risks in area compound
A new technical team from the National Secretariat for Risk and Emergency Management (SNGRE) is conducting studies on water leaks that caused another landslide on the site. Despite these challenges, the presence of machinery on the site—34 machinery and heavy vehicles are being used to extract debris from the macroslide; to date more than 25,000 cubic meters of material (m3) has been removed— has enabled a greater number of bodies to be found in less time.
The latest victim to be recovered was a young boy of about seven years of age.
In addition to the 49 people who lost their lives in the tragedy, there are 40 missing, 581 affected, and 1,034 homeless. A total of 163 homes were damaged, with 57 being destroyed.
The town of Alausí also faces a lack of connectivity, as the macroslide destroyed 150 meters of the Pan-American highway.
Road alternatives are risky and have increased travel time. Vehicles are using alternative routes such as La Moya-Achupallas-Charicando, Guasuntos-Cherlo-Guaylla-Charicando, García Moreno-Alausí access, and Zhud-La Troncal-El Triunfo-Cumandá-Bucay-Pallatanga road to reach the city of Riobamba. However, these roads are narrow and do not provide adequate conditions, increasing the risk of accidents and traffic congestion.
The Ministry of Transportation and Public Works (MTOP) has announced studies for a new route to replace the section of the Pan-American Highway affected by the landslide.
Meanwhile, the police are conducting controls on the existing roads to avoid accidents and traffic congestion.
The City Council of Alausí is sending documents to the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MIDUVI) for the implementation of a housing plan. The plan includes two properties located in the Mulliquiz and Colaipud sectors.
Last week, the relatives of the victims held a special event to commemorate the tragedy.
The municipality says it plans to continue the search for those who went missing in the macroslide indefinitely. However, there is a possibility that the area may be designated as a “cemetery” in the future.
In related news, the SNGRE has declared a total of 152.22 hectares on “orange alert” in the Huigra parish— 33 kilometers Southeast of Alausí— due to a mass movement, and the area is under constant evaluation.