Hot Off The Press 

Cincinnati, Ohio -- February 5, 1999

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

Colombia - Earthquake

Fact Sheet #5, Fiscal Year 1999                    February 4, 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; and, on January 28, the Colombian Red Cross confirmed 3,850 missing persons.  Furthermore, the Colombian Center for the Study of Social Development (CENDES) calculates that 425,000 people are affected, including 35,000 families or approximately 150,000 people who have been left homeless as a result of the earthquake.

Current Situation: 

Priority Needs:
The USAID/OFDA assessment team initially identified food, water, and shelter as the most immediate disaster needs.  In the week following the earthquake, tremendous progress has been made in the delivery of food and water as a result of the coordinated efforts of the national government, Colombian Red Cross, the private sector, and international donors.  As a result, there is an ample supply and adequate distribution of food and water (and emergency medical assistance), leaving shelter as the only unmet need. 

Of the 35,000 displaced families, one-third has left or is in the process of leaving the area to reside with friends and family, another one-third continues to live in partially damaged homes, and a final one-third are in need of temporary shelter.  Following discussions with Colombian government ministers, the Colombian presidential delegate overseeing relief and reconstruction efforts, and President Pastrana, USAID/OFDA has agreed to focus its resources on meeting the medium-term shelter needs of this final category of persons.  Specific plans for this assistance will be based upon continuing technical assessment and consultations with local and national governments in Colombia.

Colombian police and military forces continue to enforce security measures in Armenia.   Specific security measures include monitoring at food distribution centers, closure of particular city sections, cordoning off of damaged areas, traffic restrictions for non-emergency vehicles, imposition of a curfew, and a prohibition on alcohol and firearms.

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 that 15 neighborhoods are significantly damaged.  Initial assessments by USAID/OFDA field personnel similarly indicate that approximately 65% of the city's structures are destroyed or damaged beyond repair.  Immediately following the earthquake, two-thirds of Armenia was without electricity.  Officials now estimate that 80% of the city is receiving electricity and that services will be completely re-established in Armenia before the end of the week.  Although roads in and around the city were damaged, 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, although the power network was dama!
ged, repairs have now been made. 

The American Red Cross (ARC) is providing 700 rolls of plastic sheeting and 17,000 personal/family hygiene kits to Colombia to assist the displaced population.  See below for a breakdown of U.S. Government assistance in support of displaced person needs.

The Government of Colombia has committed to provide 150 tons of food aid to disaster areas per day.  The Colombian Red Cross is operating 30 distribution centers, which have to date distributed over 300 MTs of food.  With assistance provided by other Red Cross Societies, including the American Red Cross (ARC), the Colombian Red Cross will continue distributing pre-packaged family rations that include rice, beans, oil, powdered milk, canned tuna, flour, and other commodities.  The ARC is preparing food baskets locally to supplement other government sponsored food distribution programs.  In addition, donations of food from major supermarket chains, other private sector businesses, and private individuals throughout Colombia continue to pour into the region.  Private trucking companies have donated transportation to distribution points in affected areas.   The receipt and distribution of these donations is being coordinated by the Red de Solidaridad.

Municipal water service is quickly being restored to the affected areas.  As of February 3, the Director of Public Services in Armenia reports that 80% of the city's water service has been restored.  In addition, the city's water treatment facility suffered no damage and is operating at full capacity.  Where water service has not been restored, water trucks are making regular distributions.  The Government of Colombia, other municipal governments, private sector organizations, and NGO are providing sufficient supplies of potable water to the affected areas.  With assistance provided through a USAID/OFDA grant, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is assisting in providing chlorinated and potable water.  Additionally, the ARC is providing 20 water storage bladders to further enhance distribution to affected areas.

Though affected, the local capacity to provide essential health services to the affected population remains intact.  Extensive infrastructure damage did occur to several primary health care clinics and to the hospital in the city of Calarca.  Although the hospital in Calaraca suffered extensive damage, there are no reported losses to medical equipment.  Four of the approximately ten health clinics in Armenia were destroyed, but the two hospitals remain operational.  Rural health clinics in the villages of Pijua, Cordoba, Buenavista, and Barcelona were also destroyed. USAID/OFDA's health specialist in Armenia estimates that the health system in the affected zone will be restored within two weeks.

With the rapid response of private sector actors such as FUNDESCO, together with the efforts of the Ministry of Health, PAHO, and the Red Cross, essential health needs are being met.  The Colombian Ministry of Health has established a command post in the affected areas, and Colombian medical teams are handling the arrival, sorting, labeling, and distribution of medical supplies.  PAHO is supporting the Ministry of Health in epidemiological surveillance, environmental health, food control, shelter management, vector control, emergency medical supply management, and warehouse training.   USAID/OFDA support has also allowed PAHO to mount a tetanus vaccination program to protect the population as thousands of tons of debris left by the earthquake are cleared.

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.  In days following the disaster, USAID/OFDA's field team in Colombia was augmented by two additional disaster response specialists.   USAID/OFDA's Senior Regional Advisor, who is based at the regional office in San Jose, Costa Rica, heads the team.  He arrived in Bogota on January 26, and traveled overland to Armenia the same day, accompanied by a Colombia-based USAID/OFDA health specialist.  A USAID/OFDA information officer arrived in Bogota on January 27, and began field reporting from the USAID Mission in Bogota.  On January 30 and February 3, two additional disaster response specialist were added to the team.  One is assisting the U.S. Embassy and the USAID Mission with coordina!
tion issues and the other is helping to manage the relief and rehabilitation 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.

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, and 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.   Three of the four remaining SAR team personnel will depart Colombia on February 5, after conducting damage and needs assessments in areas surrounding Armenia and erecting model shelter structures for displaced populations.  The final remaining SAR team member will remain in Colombia to assist the USAID/OFDA assessment team in 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 $125,000 that USAID/OFDA provided to the USAID Mission in Colombia for the local purchase and transport of relief supplies and the rental of 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 donat ed 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 arrived in Colombia on February 4 at a total cost of $179,280, including purchase and transport. 

On January
31, 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.  As of February 2, the C-130 had transported approximately 150,000 pounds of relief supplies to affected communities.  Given the availability of road transport, continued air bridge support is not anticipated beyond the three-day provision.   On February 1, USAID/OFDA provided PAHO $250,000 in support of earthquake-related health activities.

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

USAID/OFDA has authorized an initial aid package worth $2 million in relief supplies and technical assistance. To date, $1,076, 505 of that amount has been committed to the relief effort.

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.

USAID encourages the public to contact directly those private voluntary organizations (PVOs) that 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

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.  It is essential, therefore, 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.

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Colombia Earthquake: