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Ecuadorean rains leave more than 40 dead

QUITO, Ecuador (CNN) -- Thirty-six people died in a landslide Tuesday, buried under mud and rocks that tumbled from a mountain onto a highway in the province of Napo, the Ecuadorean Red Cross said.

The accident brings the number of people killed in the country to 41 as a result of heavy rains, which began last Friday.

Tuesday's victims were waiting for the reopening of the road that leads to Baeza, 30 miles east of the capital. It was shut down Monday as a result of several landslides. None of those caused any injuries.

Elsie Andrade, a National Civil Defense spokeswoman, said the victims "had set up an improvised camping ground, where they were waiting for the highway to be reopened when the mountain fell on top of them."

Communication with the remote area, where cell phones and radio transmissions do not work, was difficult.

Red Cross workers, fire officials and police were searching for any possible survivors, trying to recover the victims' bodies, and said more dead could be buried under the mountains of mud which covered the narrow highway, a rural road that leads to the Amazon.

Scenes from the area as wet residents make their way through the thick mud (June 12)

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Daniel Arteaga, chief of the Red Cross rescue efforts, called the situation "grave."

An official dispatch from Ecuador's National Civil Defense said the landslides destroyed 400 homes, left 700 people homeless, and destroyed crops and cattle.

Some of those trapped beneath the mud must have died of asphyxia, said Arteaga, who added that the Red Cross vehicle was trapped momentarily before rescuers were able to pull the occupants to safety.

Six more deaths were registered in the Amazon provinces and in the city of Baños de Agua Santa, a popular tourist site.

Police also reported the death Tuesday morning of an infant girl in the same zone.

Meanwhile, a fire broke out in the trans-Ecuadorean oil pipeline about 30 miles east of Quito after part of a mountain fell on it. The flames were brought under control Tuesday, leaving several injured.

Authorities said they were also unable to determine how many people were missing in various cities affected by the floods.

Authorities in each province have activated rescue efforts. They said they could not guarantee the safety of people who chose to enter the affected areas.

The affected provinces are: Morona Santiago, Zamora Chinchipe, Napo, Pastaza, Francisco de Orellana, y Sucumbíos, Chimborazo, Azuay, Tungurahua and a part of Pichincha.

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