A landslide on a highway has left at least 34 dead in Colombia. The events occurred on the afternoon of January 12, on the road linking Medellin with Quibdo, near the municipality of El Carmen de Atrato, in the department of Choco. There were several landslides on the same road, due to the heavy rains recorded in the area on Friday. The most serious of them happened around 5.30 pm and caused the fall of thousands of cubic meters of earth onto the road, at kilometer 17, burying several cars and a house and causing, so far, 34 confirmed deaths and 30 people injured in varying degrees.
The Governor’s Office of Choco indicated that at this moment they are trying to move to the areas where the emergencies occurred by air, because in the most critical emergency sector there is no access, neither through Medellin, nor through El Carmen de Atrato, nor through Quibdo, since on the route, in all directions, there are other landslides.
Race against the clock to rescue those buried
The mayor of El Carmen de Atrato, Jaime Herrera, confirmed that 34 bodies have been recovered from the site, but it is suspected that several people are still buried under the landslide. Authorities are working against the clock in a rescue operation, with witnesses who live in the area saying that the number trapped under the mud could be as high as 50 people.
Some of the victims were in cars that had stopped due to previous landslides blocking the road at several points. These people remained waiting in their cars, sheltering from the heavy rains that fell in the afternoon in the sector, and were caught by the landslide.
The governor of Choco, Carolina Cordoba-Curi, explained that “ambulances from the department of Antioquia and yellow machinery (excavators) are being mobilized to reopen the road at the different points of landslides and allow the transfer of the injured and deceased to Quibdo”.
Cordoba-Curi also announced that the number of deaths would increase in the next hours, as part of the landslide fell on a house where more than 30 people were sheltering from the downpour.
The governor said that rescue units are acting on the ground, and that the priority is to “save the lives of the injured”.
Public calamity and hospital alert
The regional authorities decreed a “public calamity and hospital alert” in the department of Choco. Officials of the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management stated that a military helicopter is working on the ground to transport the most seriously injured to Medellin. The declaration of “public calamity” is a legal disposition that the regional authority may take in a situation that, due to its characteristics and magnitude, may seriously affect the population.
The “hospital alert” is declared to adopt actions to ensure adequate and timely attention to the damages to the health of the population, together with attention to the infrastructure and operation of health facilities due to emergencies.
It was announced that a total of “82 rescue units” are working in the emergency area and that the authorities are in charge of the unified command post, in coordination with the national crisis room of the Risk Unit.
Indefinite closure of the road to Quibdo
After this emergency, the authorities decided not to allow traffic on the road between Medellin and Quibdo, not only until the landslides have been removed, but also until the areas are stabilized to avoid new emergencies.
“The Quibdo-Medellin road will be temporarily closed while the earth removal is done, the risk zone is stabilized and safe transit on the road is guaranteed. We ask the population of Choco not to take the road due to the high risk of terrain instability and adverse weather conditions”, the Choco Governor’s Office stated.