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The hydroelectric project is the largest infrastructure work currently in operation in Colombia. Since mid-April, thousands of people are living with concern and fear over the environmental emergency caused by structural failures.
The member of Movimiento Ríos Vivos Antioquia, Diana Giraldo, talked to Real World Radio about the environmental and humanitarian catastrophe affecting tens of municipalities and warned that downriver, in Puerto Valdivia, a mudflow could affect the area in the next hours.
“The collapse of the tunnel started on April 13 because there was a lot of wood on Cauca River that the company had failed to collect after the winter swelling, which caused the wood to obstruct the tunnel. Then, the wood obstructed the mountains in an abrupt way, which caused the mudflows”, said Giraldo.
The member of MRV added that upriver, artisanal miners had to evacuate without help from the government or the company: departmental authorities refused to help them because they said that it was Hidroituango EPM the one in charge of alerting the population, although Movimiento Ríos Vivos saw the risk clearly coming. As of today, no humanitarian aid has been received in Ituango: “We´ve managed to survive because we took refuge in a stadium and because social organizations have donated clothes and food”, said the activist.
“Valdivia municipality is facing strong pressure with thousands of cubic meters of stagnated water that, in case of a collapse, would flood everything in a few hours and would constitute a bigger catastrophe. There are people from Caucasia evacuating”, she added.
On Wednesday May 16, the company allowed water to enter the machinery room in order to drain the water accumulated and prevent a larger tragedy, but this room got flooded and caused the machinery building to collapse, generating a new emergency that EPM recognized being unable to control. This prompted a new evacuation alert and the declaration of public emergency in Antioquia.
Antioquia´s governor, Luis Pérez, said on Friday that if the wall of the dam collapses, it could affect over 120 thousand people, and an increase of 250,000 cubic meters per second of the Cauca River´s flow is expected. “According to projections in Puerto Valdivia, a 26 mt. high wave would come in one hour and twenty minutes”, destroying everything in its path, said Pérez.
The overflooding of the Cauca River, a result of public and private negligence has put communities at risk, generating the loss of houses and production means for thousands of families, without meeting the basic food, housing or medical and psycho-social care needs, in addition to material losses.
Also, Hidroituango´s works and this overflooding of the Cauca River are endangering the possibility to find and identify over 700 bodies buried in mass graves, possible victims of the Colombian armed conflict.
Imagen: Movimiento Ríos Vivos
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