36 Dead in Ecuador Avalanche

An avalanche of rock and mud slammed down on a group of stranded motorists in the Andes east of the capital today, killing at least 36 people, authorities said.

Torrential rains set off the deadly landslide that swept over the victims as they hovered around a campfire, trying to get warm after their vehicles were blocked by an earlier avalanche, Ecuador's Civil Defense office said. The tragedy occurred early Tuesday about 30 miles east of Quito, according to a statement released late Tuesday by civil defense. No other details were immediately available.

Days of Deadly Rains

The deaths brought to 41 the number of people killed during several days of heavy rains in Ecuador's Andes Mountains. Meanwhile, nearly 2,500 other people, mostly in Ecuador's eastern and southern Amazon region, were forced to evacuate their homes because of rivers overflowing their banks, officials said. A landslide also ruptured Ecuador's main oil pipeline, sending flames shooting into the air. Rodolfo Barniol, president of Petroecuador, said the rupture is expected cut off transport of crude oil for four to five days.

Oil Pipeline Damaged

The landslides near the village of Papallacta, about 30 miles east of the capital, Quito, had damaged a 200-foot stretch of the oil pipeline. He said the landslides had also ruptured a 500-foot section of a nearby pipeline carrying home cooking gas. Barniol said in an interview with Radio Quito that technicians would take "between four and five days to repair both lines." He added that there was no danger of gas or oil shortages as a result of the damage. Between 800 and 1,000 barrels of gas had escaped and was on fire, and some 10,000 barrels of crude had also spilled nearby, he said. The accident comes four months after the government signed a $1.1 billion contract for the construction of a second oil pipeline. Environmentalists have opposed that project because its planned path will take it through some 53 miles of ecologically fragile mountain forest located between the petroleum-rich Amazon jungle and Pacific coast. Oil is Ecuador's primary export, accounting for about 43 percent of the nation's annual budget.

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