Ecuador's Devastating Rains Claim 28 Lives

QUITO, Ecuador, April 30, 2002 (ENS) - Two Quito residents were killed over the weekend, two are missing and three were wounded, as landslides triggered by heavy rains buried roads and homes across the mountainous province of Pichincha.

In Pichincha, Civil Defense personnel evacuated 138 people to temporary shelters in a race against rains coursing down Ecuador's steep hillsides. In the coastal province of Guayas, 32 people were evacuated.

Civil Defense officials report that 28 people have lost their lives and thousands have lost their homes since the rains began eight weeks ago.


Bulldozer works to repair a road in the province of Pichincha destroyed in a recent landslide. (Photo courtesy El Comercio)
Continuing heavy rains and flooding have destroyed bridges and roads in the coastal provinces of Manabi, Esmeraldas, Los Rios and El Oro. More than 9,000 homes have been swept away and rice, coffee and cocoa crops have been lost.

In the province of Manabi on April 11, landslides triggered by heavy rains damaged the coastal resort town of Alajuela, blocking roads and damaging homes.

School classes have not started yet in the flooded coastal areas, as evacuated people have been accommodated in school buildings.

In rural areas, epidemiological surveillance carried out by local doctors is irregular. Due to floods, the water and sanitation monitoring system has worsened. Sources of drinking water have been contaminated by flood water and solid wastes dispersed in the urban areas.

Damages are generally believed to be in the millions of dollars as nearly a thousand kilometers of roads, plus many bridges and retaining walls have been damaged. The government of president Gustavo Noboa declared an emergency in the affected regions March 22, but has not yet released a damage estimate.

Some commentators blame the destructive rains on El Nino, a pattern of climate warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean, but others are more cautious, saying it is too early to tell.

The International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate Predication based at New York' Columbia University says the continuing heavy rains in coastal Ecuador and Peru indicate "movement towards" basin wide El Niņo conditions, but "uncertainty remains whether a basin wide El Nino will develop over the next two to three seasons."

An El Nino weather pattern in 1997 and 1998 left 200 people dead in Ecuador and caused financial losses of about US$3 billion dollars.