ALAUSÍ, Ecuador (AP) — Rescuers on Tuesday pulled the body of a 6-year-old girl from the rubble of a house buried by a big landslide in central Ecuador, raising the confirmed death toll to eight while the search continued for more than 60 people still missing.
The girl’s body was the first to be found in about 40 hours of searching after the initial landslide Sunday night, reflecting the difficulty rescuers were having digging through the mud, rocks and rubble. The landslide buried at least 50 houses in the Andean town of Alausí.
The girl was found at a depth of 5 meters (5 yards) on one side of the lower part of the avalanche. Rescuers expanded the search in the area to look for the girl’s uncle and two cousins, who relatives said were with her when the landslide struck.
The head of one of the rescue teams, Jorge Torres, told The Associated Press the conditions of the terrain made the search very difficult since the bodies “must be between 20 and 30 meters underground.” He said rescuers were feeling tremors in the ground and feared another landslide.
Torres said the first hours are essential for finding survivors and hopes of finding people alive fade as the days go by. But he said they will continue searching hoping “to rescue someone alive or at least provide peace of mind amid the pain with a body for relatives to mourn.”
The head of the Quito Fire Department, Esteban Cárdenas, told local media the area is covered by more than 2 million cubic meters of earth, mud and rocks that have buried houses of up to three stories.
The searchers, who were using heavy machinery, were joined by dozens of Indigenous people from nearby areas. Fire department, army, police and Red Cross rescuers were exhausted but vowed to keep searching.
A reason the death toll was not higher was that at the end of February, authorities warned about the risk of earth movements in the area due to heavy rains. When cracks in the ground began to widen, officials recommended that people evacuate. Some did, others didn’t.
Milton Taday said he was able to move his disabled mother into the house of a neighbor on more stable ground who let them use a couple of rooms.
“But now everything is closing, people are leaving everything out of fear,” he said. ___ Associated Press journalist Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador, contributed to this report.