In the latest disaster at the weekend, 5 people were drowned in a river when their minibus was swept away. And on Sunday, the city of La Paz, home to around one million people, was hit by the worst landslide in living memory. The huge landslide destroyed over 400 homes in the Kupini and Valle de las Flores districts of the city and has affected over 5,000 people.
Built on steep mountain slopes, La Paz suffers regular landslides. However, the one at the weekend was unprecedented in terms of its scale. Thankfully, though a few residents were injured, there were no fatalities. Local authorities managed to clear the area on Saturday evening, after land began sliding and warning cracks appeared in roads and bridges. Over 2,000 helpers, including firemen, police, soldiers and volunteers worked to clear the area and evacuate all the residents of the poor Bolivian districts. Though some were able to rescue a few belongings from their destroyed homes early on Sunday, aided by soldiers, police soon cordoned off the area as earth movements threatened to destabilise the area further.
The landslide was believed to have initially been triggered by seismic activity. The president of Bolivia called an emergency meeting of his ministers late on Sunday to assess the damage and designated the affected area of La Paz an emergency zone. The government had already declared a state of national emergency last week, after torrential rains brought misery to other parts of the country. The northern lowlands have been the worst-hit area, with a number of rural communities cut off by overflowing rivers. Government troops have been helping with evacuations and also by flying supplies to some of the affected regions.
As yet, there are no official estimates of the damage caused by the flooding and landslides. But it is already clear that as well as major repairs to infrastructure, many thousands will need assistance to rebuild, most especially the poorest families. Nearly one in five Bolivians live on less than a dollar a day and some have lost what little they had in the natural disasters of recent weeks. They will be looking to the government for help. Alvaro Garcia Linera, the Vice President, visited families left homeless in La Paz and taking shelter in a local school. He pledged to help with their rebuilding. “We are not going to abandon you”, Mr Linera is reported (by the ABI news agency) to have promised.