Hot Off The Press 

Cincinnati, Ohio -- January 30, 1999

U.S. Agency for International Development  
Bureau for Humanitarian Response (BHR)
Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)

Colombia - Earthquake

Fact Sheet #1, Fiscal Year 1999                   January 27, 1999

On January 25, 1999 at 1:19 p.m. EST, the epicenter of an earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter Scale struck central Colombia at 4.29N latitude and 75.68W longitude.   Aftershocks could be felt into the evening of January 25, with the largest registering between 5.5 and 5.6 on the Richter Scale.  The disaster zone spans 20 towns and villages and encompasses five departments:  Quindio, Risaralda, Valle, Tolima, and Caldas.  The hardest hit areas include the cities of Armenia and Calarca in the Department of Quindio, and the city of Pereira in the Department of Risaralda.

Numbers Affected: 
As of January 26, the Colombian Civil Defense confirmed more than 500 deaths and over 900 injuries.  Meanwhile, local media reported that the number of dead had risen to over 1,000. These numbers are expected to escalate as the situation evolves. Preliminary reports by the U.S. Embassy indicate that approximately 250,000 persons are homeless.

Current Situation: 
Damage assessments are preliminary at this point in time.  In Armenia, the worst affected city, the Pan American Health Organization estimates that 175 buildings are destroyed (including the police station and fire department) and 15 neighborhoods are significantly damaged.  Initial assessments by USAID/OFDA field personnel confirm that approximately 60% of the city's structures are destroyed or damaged beyond repair.   Initial reports by USAID/OFDA also indicate that two-thirds of Armenia is without water and electricity.  In addition, roads in and around the city are severely damaged.  USAID/OFDA field personnel report a similar situation in Calarca, the second most damaged city.  Here, an estimated 60% of the building structures are also destroyed or damaged beyond repair, and all public services in Calarca are inoperable.   Assessment information has yet to be gathered from neighboring towns.  Once more detailed information is available, it will be incorporated into future fact sheets.

Colombian air force have overflown the rural area in the affected zone.  They report that search and rescue is not required in these communities since most of the damaged structures were single level.

U.S. Government (USG) Assistance: 
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Curtis W. Kamman issued a disaster declaration on January 26 in response to the earthquake.  USAID/OFDA immediately deployed a three-person team to Colombia to conduct damage and needs assessments, coordinate the USG response effort, and report on the disaster situation.  This team is headed by USAID/OFDA's Senior Regional Advisor, who is based at the OFDA regional office in San Jose, Costa Rica.   The team also includes a Colombia-based health specialist and a Washington-based information officer.  USAID/OFDA's Senior Regional Advisor arrived in Bogota on January 26, and traveled overland to Armenia the same day, accompanied by USAID/OFDA's health specialist.  USAID/OFDA's information officer arrived in Bogota on January 27, and began field reporting from the USAID Mission in Bogota.

USAID/OFDA is funding the deployment of a 62-person Miami-Dade search and rescue (SAR) team.  The SAR team arrived in Cali at approximately 7 pm on January 26 via chartered aircraft, at an estimated transport cost of $155,000.  The team was accompanied by 56,000 pounds of support equipment.  The SAR team immediately established an emergency operations center in Cali and sent an advance group to Armenia. Additional members of the SAR team traveled to Armenia today.  By noon on January 27, the Miami-Dade team had integrated itself into the existing SAR effort and had established working relations with the Colombian Civil Defense and Red Cross.  The Miami-Dade SAR team has been assigned a specific operational zone, and is conducting search activities from 6 am through 5 pm.  Thus far, no live victims have been recovered.  The U.S. Mission in Bogota reports that SAR capacity in the affected region includes approximately 400 USAID/OFDA-trained Colombian personnel, 100 Mexicans, and!
30 Japanese.  Teams from Great Britain and Russia are scheduled to arrive on the scene shortly.  No additional SAR assistance is anticipated.

USAID/OFDA will also fund the deployment of an eight-person Community Technical Support Team to advise Colombian officials on ongoing rescue and relief efforts.  This technical assistance team will be based in Armenia, and it will be comprised of members of the Miami-Dade and Fairfax County Fire Departments.

USAID/OFDA has authorized an initial aid package worth $2 million in relief supplies and technical assistance.  This figure includes $25,000 that USAID/OFDA provided to the USAID Mission in Colombia for the local purchase or rental of SAR equipment.   USAID/OFDA plans to provide an initial airlift of 8,000 blankets and 100 rolls of plastic sheeting to Colombia to help meet the immediate needs of earthquake victims.   The plastic sheeting will be sufficient to provide shelter for 1,000 families.   In addition, USAID/OFDA will provide 1,980 gallons of bottled water and 165 cases of food rations in support of its SAR team, field personnel, and the Colombian Red Cross. USAID/OFDA has chartered an aircraft to transport these relief supplies and the eight person Community Technical Support Team to Bogota on January 28.  From Bogota, the relief supplies will be shuttled to Armenia by small aircraft.  USAID Assistant Administrator Hugh Parmer and a USAID/OFDA Science Advisor will accompany the relief supplies to Armenia tomorrow.  Including supplies and transport, the total estimated cost of this airlift is approximately $253,000.

USAID/OFDA continues to monitor the situation closely and is prepared to respond to requests for additional assistance that are recommended by the Senior Regional Advisor in Colombia, based upon continuing field assessments.

Public Donation Information for Victims of the Colombia Earthquake: Disasters often generate an outpouring of interest and concern by the American people which lead to spontaneous collections of relief supplies, including food, clothing, medical supplies, and the like. In the interest of effective coordination of such public response, we encourage concerned citizens to provide monetary donations to appropriate organizations.

As transportation of relief supplies is limited by local capacity and infrastructure damage, it is difficult to move donated goods into disaster-stricken countries.   Unsolicited commodity donations often place an unnecessary burden on relief workers and local governments to store, transport, and distribute supplies to those affected populations in need.  This can detract from the provision of more urgently needed relief assistance.  For these reasons and the fact that USAID/OFDA cannot provide transportation assistance of donated relief supplies, USAID encourages the public to contact directly those private voluntary organizations (PVOs) who are currently working in Colombia, or with local affiliates, to provide monetary donations.  A list of PVOs may be obtained by contacting InterAction at 202-667-8227 ext. 106, or via the internet at Those interested in providing specific relief services or supplies should contact Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA) for information and guidelines.  VITA can be reached at 703-276-1914, or via the internet at

USAID/OFDA Assistance Provided to Date:  $433,000

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