Colombia to airlift supplies to landslide isolated Pasto

Portion of the PanAmerican Highway near Rosas (Cauca) destroyed by a landslide. Photo: MinTransporte.

One of Colombia’s key regional cities, Pasto, and departmental capital of Nariño, remains cut off from the rest of the country after a powerful landslide Monday destroyed at least 500 meters of the Pan American Highway that connects neighboring Ecuador with Pasto and other important agricultural and industrial cities in the southwest, among them Popayán and Cali.

The landslide forced local authorities to evacuate 150 families from the disaster zone as heavy rainfall continues to affect most the south and interior of Colombia. The incessant rains have destroyed at least 10 bridges and collapsed roads in other parts of the country since the start of the new year.

On Monday, Colombian President Gustavo Petro cut short a visit to Santiago, Chile, where he was meeting his counterpart Gabriel Boric to oversee disaster-relief efforts.

The Pan American Highway is the most important road that connects the agricultural fertile departments of Nariño and Cauca with the rest of the country, and alternative roads are precarious as illegal armed groups, among them the Maoist ELN and FARC dissidents, exert a strong presence in the region.

The disruption to food and other essential goods for the residents of Pasto was felt within hours of the landslide, and many gasoline station stopped attending customers over concerns that the city will face petrol and gas outages. President Petro assured locals that Colombia’s Armed Forces will set up an air bridge from Cali to deliver medicines and other key items in response to the emergency.

An alternative route to Pasto – through the townships of Sucre and La Sierra – also collapsed on Tuesday with intense rainfall. According to the Cauca Chamber of Commerce the agricultural products most impacted by the Pan American closure are dairy and meat.

President Petro tried to mitigate the crisis by announcing construction of a 70-km new road to reconnect Pasto with Popayán, but any large-scale G4 infrastructure project will require years of construction.

Domestic carriers Avianca and LATAM also announced the commencement of “humanitarian flights” in and out of Pasto to help locals reach other cities. Both airlines were accused of price-gouging passengers with excessive ticket prices in the aftermath of the landslide. Travelers claimed LATAM was charging up to COP$2 million (US$400) for a 30-minute flight to Cali.

Colombia’s Disaster Risk Management Agency (UNGRD) has issued landslide warnings for the departments of Norte Santander, Cauca, Risaralda, and Cundinamarca.