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Cincinnati, Ohio -- January 30, 1999

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

Colombia - Earthquake

Fact Sheet #2, Fiscal Year 1999                       January 29, 1999

Background:  On January 25, 1999 at 1:19 p.m. EST, the epicenter of an earthquake measuring .0 on the Richter Scale struck central Colombia at 4.29N latitude and 75.68W longitude.  More than thirty aftershocks have occurred, with the largest registering between 5.5 and 5.6 on the Richter Scale.  The Government of Colombia has declared 20 municipalities as disaster zones.  All are located in the departments of 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 27, local press report more than 700 deaths, approximately 3,000 injuries, and an estimated 250,000 homeless persons.  The number of deaths is expected to escalate as the situation evolves.

Current Situation:  The USAID/OFDA assessment team has identified food, water, and shelter as the most immediate disaster needs.  Because food and water are scarce in those areas heavily affected by the earthquake, looting, rioting, and exchanges of gunfire between military troops and the civilian population are widespread.  The Government of Colombia has pledged to provide 150 tons of food aid to disaster areas per day.   In addition, the Government of Colombia is attempting to evacuate persons from damaged homes, but are having difficulty convincing people to leave their property due to the looting.

The housing sector and infrastructure network are most severely impacted; however, the local productive capacity of the coffee industry is only minimally damaged.  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 are inoperable.   Assessment information has yet to be gathered from neighbori!
ng 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.  The USAID/OFDA team in Colombia will be augmented with additional disaster response personnel in the next few days.

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 the following day.  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.   Although the Miami-Dade SAR team did not rescue any survivors, they successfully used technical equipment to retrieve eight bodies from a large void.  On January 28, President Pastrana officially declared the end of the rescue phase.  Given the successful completion of mission objectives, the diminishing hope of finding survi!
vors, growing security concerns, and consistent with the presidential announcement, the SAR team began an orderly demobilization plan today.  The Miaimi-Dade SAR team will continue to demobilize over the course of the weekend.  Four members of the SAR team will remain in Armenia to help the USAID/OFDA assessment team to address relief needs.

USAID/OFDA also funded the deployment of an eight-person Community Technical Support Team, comprised of Miami-Dade and Fairfax County SAR personnel, to advise Colombian officials on ongoing rescue and relief efforts.  This technical assistance team arrived in Bogota on January 28, but returned to the United States today given the completion of SAR efforts and the demobilization of the 62-person team.

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.  On January 27, USAID/OFDA airlifted 8,000 blankets and 100 rolls of plastic sheeting to Bogota to help meet the immediate needs of earthquake victims. The plastic sheeting will be sufficient to provide shelter for 1,000 families.  As a priority, it will be used to shelter those persons unprotected by recent heavy rains.  The plastic sheeting was flown from Bogota to Armenia on January 29, along with 1,980 gallons of bottled water and 165 cases of food rations in support of the Miami-Dade SAR team, the USAID/OFDA field team, and the Colombian Red Cross. 

An attempt to transport the relief supplies from Bogota to Armenia was thwarted on January 28 due to security concerns. USAID Assistant Administrator Hugh Parmer and a USAID/OFDA Science Advisor accompanied USAID/OFDA's initial flight of relief supplies to Colombia. Assistant Administrator Parmer also traveled to Armenia.  Both he and USAID/OFDA's Science Advisor departed Colombia today.  Including supplies and transport, the total estimated cost of this airlift is approximately $253,000.  In response to a request by President Pastrana, USAID/OFDA is also facilitating the transport of 8,400 humanitarian daily rations (HDRs) to Colombia to assist in meeting emergency food needs.  The HDRs will arrive in Pereira as early as tomorrow, on a chartered aircraft.  The cost of the HDRs is being met by the U.S. Department of Defense and the transport is being met by USAID/OFDA at $34,128 and $121,000, respectively.

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 (VIT!
A) for information and guidelines.  VITA can be reached at 703-276-1914, or via the internet at

USAID/OFDA Assistance Provided to Date:  $588,128

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