Ecuador landslide death toll rises to 14, dozens missing

Residents abandon their homes after a landslide in Alausi, Ecuador on 28 March, 2023AFP

The death toll from a major landslide in southern Ecuador has risen to 14, authorities said Wednesday, as emergency crews race to find survivors among several dozen people still missing days after the disaster.

The chances of uncovering anyone alive were dwindling but rescuers continued their tireless search for the 67 people missing after cascades of mud, earth and vegetation buried parts of the town of Alausi, some 300 kilometers (180 miles) south of the capital Quito.

Following torrential rain, a massive chunk of a mountainside broke loose late Sunday and slid onto the community of some 45,000 inhabitants, destroying or damaging at least 163 homes, the SNGR risk management secretariat said.

The area in the path of the disaster had been in a designated yellow alert risk zone since February following other landslides.

The government opened three shelters for those affected by the landslide, which covered an area of more than 24 hectares (59 acres), and ordered the evacuation of some 600 houses in or near the area.

After the latest landslide, rescuers and the relatives of those trapped continued digging day and night through the debris. Every so often they pulled personal belongings such as clothing and photographs from the mud.

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

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.

President Guillermo Lasso has vowed to continue the rescue effort for "as long as is necessary," but he was jeered by locals when he visited the site on Monday night.

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 landslide, according to the SNGR.

Meanwhile, around 2,000 indigenous protesters took to the streets of the capital Quito on Wednesday demanding that the constitutional court give the green light for an impeachment process against Lasso.

The president has been accused by some opposition legislators of protecting a criminal organization headed by his brother-in-law and a former government official.

Late Wednesday evening, the court said it had voted 6-3 to allow the impeachment proceedings to move forward.