Hot Off The Press 

Cincinnati, Ohio -- February 4, 1999

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

Colombia - Earthquake

Fact Sheet #4, Fiscal Year 1999                    February 2, 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.  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: 
On February 1, the International Red Cross reported a total of 938 confirmed deaths and 4,117 injuries.  On January 28, the Colombian Red Cross confirmed 3,850 missing persons.  Local media continue to report $250,000 homeless and over 1,000 dead.

Current Situation:
The USAID/OFDA assessment team has identified food, water, and shelter as the most immediate disaster needs.  With approximately 6,000 Colombian military personnel on the ground, the security situation is now under control in Armenia -- where looting and rioting were widespread last week due to the dwindling food supply.  Food availability in Armenia is now sufficient to meet emergency demands.  The Government of Colombia is providing 150 tons of food aid to disaster areas per day, and food assistance from donors is beginning to arrive on the ground.  According to OFDA assessment information, the distribution mechanism of emergency supplies is notably improving throughout Armenia -- with an increase of 12 distribution centers to 50.   To ensure future security, the military has increased its security at food distribution points, closed parts of Armenia, blocked off entire sections of the city, restricted traffic to emergency vehicles, imposed a curfew, and prohibited the sellin!
g of alcohol and carrying of firearms.

The housing sector and infrastructure network are most severely impacted; however, the local productive capacity of the coffee industry is only minimally damaged.  The Government of Colombia is identifying cleared areas for the establishment of temporary shelters for the homeless population.  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 65% 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.   However, officials estimate that electricity will be re-established in Armenia before the end of the week.  Roads in and around the city are also severely damaged, but much progress has been made to remove rubble and clear the !
streets.  USAID/OFDA field personnel report a similar situation in Calarca, the second most damaged city.  Here, as in Armenia, an estimated 65% of the building structures are destroyed or damaged beyond repair, and all public services are inoperable.   The USAID/OFDA assessment team is currently gathering damage and needs assessments from neighboring towns. This information will be available in future fact sheets.

A coordination meeting will occur in Armenia tomorrow at the invitation of the Colombian First Lady.  Various governmental ministers, department heads, mayors, and donor organizations will be present to discuss relief and rehabilitation efforts.

U.S. Government 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 reporting from the USAID Mission in Bogota.  An additional disaster response specialist arrived in Bogota on January 30, and is assisting the U.S. Embassy and the USAID Mission with coordination issues.  The USAID/OFDA!
team in Colombia will be augmented tomorrow by an additional disaster response specialist, who will assist with the relief effort in Armenia.

On January 26, a USAID/OFDA-funded, 62-person Miami-Dade search and rescue (SAR) team arrived in Cali via chartered aircraft, along with 56,000 pounds of support equipment.   The estimated transport cost to deploy the SAR team is $155,000.  Upon its arrival, 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 survivors, growing security concerns, an!
d consistent with the presidential announcement, the SAR team began an orderly demobilization on January 29.  By January 30, all members of the SAR team, except four, had returned to the United States.  The four remaining members are conducting damage and needs assessments in areas surrounding Armenia.

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 the following day given the completion of SAR efforts and the demobilization of the 62-person team.

The U.S. Government 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.  The bottled water and food rations were donated by the Fairfax County Fire Department at an approximate cost of $20,000.  The total estimated cost for the purchase of the blankets and plastic sheeting, and the transport of these items to Bogota is $245,625. USAID Assistant Administrator Hugh Parmer and a USAID/OFDA Science Advisor accompanied USAID/OFDA's initial flight of relief supplies to Bogota and then accompanied the supplies onward to Armenia.  Both individuals departed from Colombia on January 29.  In response to a request by President Pastrana, USAID/OFDA facilitated the transport of 8,400 humanitarian daily rations (HDRs) to Pereira on January 30 to assist in meeting emergency food needs. 

The cost of the HDRs is being met by the U.S. Department of Defense and the cost of transport is being met by USAID/OFDA at $34,128 and $121,000, respectively.  A second airlift of 500 rolls of plastic sheeting is scheduled to arrive in Colombia on February 4 at a total cost of $179,280, including purchase and transport.  On January 30, one Texas Air National Guard-crewed C-130 arrived in Bogota to assist the Government of Colombia with the transport of relief supplies from Bogota to Armenia for a three-day duration.  Continued air bridge support is not anticipated beyond the three-day provision, given the availability of road transport.  On February 1, USAID/OFDA provided the Pan American Health Organization $250,000 in support of earthquake-related health activities.  USAID/OFDA provided an additional $100,000 to the USAID Mission on January 2 for the local purchase and transport of relief supplies.

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.

USAID/OFDA Assistance Provided to Date:  $1,076,505

Public Donation Information for Victims of the Colombia Earthquake: 
The U.S. Agency for International Development encourages the public to contact directly those private voluntary organizations (PVOs) that are currently working in/with local affiliates in Colombia and South America to provide monetary donations.   Organizations experienced in disaster relief can provide critically needed material and assistance in the most coordinated and effective manner.  A list of PVOs may be obtained by contacting InterAction at 202-667-8227, ext. 106, or via the Internet at

Individuals interested in receiving guidance on how to provide specific, technical relief services or supplies should contact Volunteers in Technical Assistance's (VITA) Disaster Information Center for information and guidelines.  VITA can be reached at 703-276-1914, or via the Internet at

We greatly appreciate the generosity of the American people.  To ensure that the most urgent needs are met, we encourage concerned citizens to provide monetary contributions to appropriate organizations rather than collecting clothing and other items for donation.

The ability to transport relief supplies is limited by infrastructure damage, making it difficult to move supplies into the affected country.  We need to be sure that our first response efforts are focused on the immediate crisis and reach individuals in the most urgent need.  Therefore, it is essential that donations be prioritized to meet the needs of the crisis.  Unfortunately, the U.S. government does not have the capacity to pay to move donated goods or volunteers.

Numbers to call:

For monetary donations and contacts with NGOs/PVOs:
Call InterAction:  202-667-8227, ext. 106, or go to the Internet at

For guidance on how to provide specific, technical relief services or supplies:
Call VITA:  703-276-1914, or go to the Internet at

For private sector donations and businesses wanting to help:
Call USAID Emergency Response Business Desk: 1-800-872-4373 or 1-800-USAID-RELIEF.

For general information on how you can help or to ensure a financial contribution is routed effectively:
Call USAID: 1-800-872-4373 or 1-800-USAID-RELIEF, or go to the USAID Website:

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