Colombia - Earthquake Fact Sheet #6, Fiscal Year 1999

Situation Report
Originally published

Background: 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. More than thirty aftershocks occurred, with the largest registering between 5.5 and 5.6 on the Richter Scale. The Government of Colombia 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 Calarcá in the Department of Quindio, and the city of Pereira in the Department of Risaralda.

Numbers Affected: The Colombian Red Cross now reports a total of 1,171 confirmed deaths and 4,765 injuries. 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. The Colombian Red Cross also reports that some 45,000 houses were either destroyed or damaged.

Current Situation: 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 was 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 principle need. Of the 35,000 displaced families, approximately 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.

Infrastructure: In Armenia, the worst affected city, the Pan American Health Organization estimated that 175 buildings were destroyed (including the police station and fire department) and that 15 neighborhoods were significantly damaged. Assessments by USAID/OFDA field personnel similarly indicate that approximately 65% of the city's structures were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Immediately following the earthquake, two-thirds of Armenia was
without electricity. However, electricity services have now been re-established. 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 damaged, repairs have now been made.

Food: The Government of Colombia committed to provide 150 tons of food aid to disaster areas per day, and the Colombian Red Cross is operating 30 distribution centers. 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. Receipt and distribution of these donations is being coordinated by the Colombian Government's Red de Solidaridad (Solidarity Network).

Water: Municipal water service is quickly being restored to the affected areas. As of February 3, the Director of Public Services in Armenia reported that 80% of the city's water service had 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.

Health: 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 rapidly.

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 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, headed 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 coordination issues and the other is helping to manage the relief and rehabilitation effort in Armenia. By February 11, both disaster relief specialists operating out of Bogota had returned to the United States, and the Senior Regional Advisor had returned to San Jose, Costa Rica. The Colombia-based USAID/OFDA health specialist continues to assist the USAID Mission in Bogota to address post disaster follow-up.

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. Although the Miami-Dade SAR team did not rescue any survivors, they successfully used technical equipment to retrieve eight bodies. On January 28, President Pastrana officially declared the end of the rescue phase. Subsequently, the SAR team began an orderly demobilization on January 29. By January 30, all but four members of the SAR team had returned to the United States. Three of the four remaining SAR team personnel departed Colombia on February 5, after conducting damage and needs assessments in areas surrounding Armenia and erecting model shelter structures for displaced populations. The final SAR team member departed on February 8.

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 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. Between January 27 and February 4, USAID/OFDA airlifted the following relief commodities: 8,000 blankets; 600 rolls of plastic sheeting (enough to provide temporary shelter material to 6,000 families); 1,980 gallons of bottled water; 165 cases of meals-ready-to-eat (MREs); and 8,400 humanitarian daily rations (HDRs) to assist in meeting emergency food needs. 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 Colombia on January 29. The bottled water and MREs were donated by the Fairfax County Fire Department at an approximate cost of $20,000. The cost of the HDRs was $34,128 and was met by the U.S. Department of Defense. The total estimated cost to USAID/OFDA for the purchase of the blankets and plastic sheeting, and the transport of these and the other relief items is $546,505.

USAID/OFDA plastic sheeting was provided to persons unprotected by heavy rains immediately following the earthquake. USAID/OFDA technical assistance and plastic sheeting was also used to construct community kitchens and day care facilities in Barcelona, Buenavista, Pijao, and Armenia. The day care facilities will allow parents to resume their livelihoods and the food kitchens will ensure that the most affected populations are receiving adequate supplies of food for immediate consumption. All USAID/OFDA-erected community food kitchens will be run by local organizations. USAID/OFDA plastic sheeting is also being provided to small coffee producers for the repair of homes and processing facilities, allowing coffee production to resume. Additionally, USAID/OFDA provided PAHO $250,000 in support of earthquake-related health activities.

From January 31 through February 2, a Texas Air National Guard-crewed C-130 flew a total of eight sorties between Bogota and Armenia, delivering a total of 79 MTs of relief supplies and transporting 16 passengers. The air bridge was discontinued after three days, given the availability of road transport.

Currently, USAID/OFDA is in the process of designing a series of rehabilitation and disaster mitigation activities. These activities will focus primarily on shelter reconstruction and the appropriate use and maintenance of indigenous construction materials. Efforts are also underway to provide technical support to local government efforts to improve hazard mapping and its linkages to land-use planning in the city of Armenia. The anticipated cost of these rehabilitation and disaster mitigation activities is estimated at approximately $1 million.

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, which is in addition to expenses incurred as a result of the SAR Team deployment. To date, $1,076,505 of that amount have 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.