BOGOTA – The devastating passage of Hurricane Iota through the Colombian archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina left thousands of people homeless and awaiting evacuation or help from the government.
Since Tuesday, when airports on San Andres and Providencia were reopened for government flights, hundreds of people have been evacuated from the latter given the precarious conditions in that territory.
“On the island everything is totally destroyed. There are no houses, there is no food, there is no help. People do not know how to survive,” Leova, a Swiss tourist arriving on an air force plane to San Andres from Providencia, told EFE.
On the outskirts of the San Andres airport, dozens of people gather each day waiting for relatives evacuated from Providencia and Santa Catalina, who are greeted with applause, a plate of food and the emotion of knowing that they survived the fury of Iota, which devastated the two islands.
Another evacuated tourist reported that he was on Santa Catalina, the smallest in the archipelago, when the waters washed away the inn where he was staying.
“A cousin got in and dragged us to the mountain… He reached to catch a rope, tied us to a tree and there we held on for three hours (enduring) the impact of the wind, the sea, blows on all sides... horrible,” said the man, who did not identify himself.
Since Tuesday, when the weather conditions improved in the area, the Colombian government has sent tons of food, water, tents, personal hygiene kits and other materials by air and sea to help the victims.
President Ivan Duque has remained since Tuesday on San Andres, the largest island in the archipelago, which also suffered extensive damage to its infrastructure, but nothing compared to the devastation suffered in Providencia and Santa Catalina.
Duque travels daily to Providencia to supervise the debris clean-up and distribution of humanitarian aid, which, given the magnitude of the residents’ needs, appears to be insufficient.
For this reason, the president said on Thursday that he had asked the United States for air assistance to transport more aid to those affected by the hurricane.
Duque, who spoke from San Andres in a virtual conversation organized by the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, based in Washington, DC, said that “in Providencia we do have immense destruction” since almost all of “the houses disappeared.”
The situation is less dramatic on San Andres where, according to the president, “we have impacts on houses, but specific attention and negative impacts on structures can be handled.”
Reconstruction is an emergency in the archipelago, which also suffered serious damage to hospitals and health centers, roads, electricity and telecommunications networks, which added to the fact that it is located more than 700 kilometers from continental Colombia makes relief efforts difficult.
Sopesa, the company in charge of electricity on the islands, said on Thursday that the hurricane caused “serious damage,” but with the improvement in weather conditions, progress has been made in restoring services to 96 percent on San Andres, adding that power should be fully restored in the next 36 hours.
In the case of Providencia, Sopesa said that it was found that 100 percent of its infrastructure on the island is “seriously affected” and repair work will take about 15 days “if weather and logistical conditions allow.”
Regarding telecommunications, the Spanish company Movistar, the largest operator in San Andres, announced that “the recovery of the service is advancing by 90 percent in landlines and 60 percent in mobile phones,” while a technical team was sent to Providencia to make an assessment of the damage suffered by the infrastructure and activate a recovery plan.