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  • Environmental activists had opposed the Hidroituango dam for its potential threat to riverside communities

    Environmental activists had opposed the Hidroituango dam for its potential threat to riverside communities' way of life. | Photo: EPM

Published 17 May 2018

Environmental activists had opposed the Hidroituango dam for its potential threat to riverside communities' way of life.

Heavy floods at the construction site of Colombia's largest hydroelectric dam have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes, after 600 had already been displaced during the weekend.

RELATED:

Floods Force 600 Colombians to Evacuate in Antioquia

Nearly 5,000 citizens evacuated the surrounding villages bordering the Cauca river at risk of serious flooding Wednesday after complications at the Hidroituango dam led to a state of emergency.

During an interview Thursday, Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez said department authorities are preparing for tsunami-sized waves.

"It's a very delicate situation. A possible break or fracture of the dam... would be a huge catastrophe for the whole country," Gutierrez said.

At least one village has been destroyed, leaving 600 people homeless. Two bridges, schools and a clinic have also been razed.

"This water could destabilize the dam's infrastructure... by midnight it came again with less force, but constant flow," said Jorge Londoño De la Cuesta, director of the project and the Colombian Public Services Company (EPM).


“Families that lost everything up and downstream #HidroituangoADisaster now they will go and give us solutions from their desks, those who defined, without consulting us, finishing with our way of life”

The total population of the departments to be evacuated adds up to 120,000 people, but no deaths or missing people have been reported so far.

Activists that have opposed the dam since its approval in 2009 say the engine room collapsed because the company left plant material accumulating, but Londoño claims "unpredictable geological conditions" caused the tunnel to collapse.

"Communities are losing their way of life," Isabel Cristina Zuleta, a local environmental activist from the Rios Vivos Movement ('Living Rivers') that opposed the dam told the Guardian from the town of Sabanalarga. 

"There's no humanitarian assistance here, it's total abandonment – there's no shelters, no food, no anything."

Londoño says reconstruction of the dam could take another three or four days after they restart activities, but there is a real danger of collapse.

The National Unit of Risk and Disaster Management (Ungrd) said: "In a zone called 'galeria 284,' the flow of water is still present that could erode the base of the dam.”

Londoño said: "There's a possibility that happens, and that's why we called on the community to be alert. The flood would be huge and would affect several municipalities downstream, from Antioquia to Caucasia and Nechi."


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