Ecuadorean Army Corps of Engineers Connects Communities Affected by Earthquake

Ecuadorean Army Corps of Engineers Connects Communities Affected by Earthquake

By Alex Ormaza/Diálogo
August 19, 2016

A portable bailey bridge was the key to connecting the Tachina Airport with the city of Esmeraldas in Ecuador. The prefabricated military-use bridge was used to provide assistance and evacuate victims of the April 16th earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale and left 671 people dead and more than 6,000 injured in the Andean nation. The Ecuadorean Army Corps of Engineers (CEE, its Spanish acronym) had previously installed the bridge on a temporary basis as part of a construction project to build seven bridges in the region.

"Because of their versatility and flexibility, these bridges allow us to have a constant flow of access to fairly remote places. In this case, we had access to places where we previously were unable to bring humanitarian aid or areas where other bridges had collapsed," Brigadier General Pedro Mosquera Burbano, CEE commander and a civil engineer from the Ecuadorean Army's Polytechnic School, told Diálogo. "We have always had bailey bridges allocated for this purpose."

Only hours after the earthquake, the CEE's Bridge Battalion received the order to mobilize in areas affected by the quake, Brig. Gen. Mosquera explained. "We were ordered at the top level, the Armed Forces Joint Command, through the Army Command, to coordinate with various ministries to carry out works such as providing roads, access to potable water, and setting up shelters for the survivors," he said.

The Bridge Battalion was ready to act when faced with natural disasters. "After the earthquake, we installed a little over 300 meters of these bridges, and, on a few occasions, we have had to relocate others,” Brig. Gen. Mosquera said. “To do that, we carried out a census of bridges not in the primary network." The CEE has six battalions of combat engineers.

The idea was to locate populations that could previously only be reached by air. "We sent our troops to conduct technical reconnaissance and to determine riverside conditions and other obstacles to overcome. The mission was to make sure there were no isolated populations and to access the most affected cities, such as Pedernales, Manta, Portoviejo, Canoa, and Bahía de Caráquez," Brig. Gen. Mosquera said. "We focused on the smallest cities in the north of Manabí. The Ministry of Public Works, the Provincial Councils, and other authorities began their work in the larger cities."

The CEE also received the order to focus on maintaining shelters, roads, and bridges. In its assessment of the damage, the CEE determined that several bridges needed to be repaired or reinstalled. "Some of them had collapsed, and others were damaged and needed repairs," Army Lieutenant Colonel Freddy Merizalde, CEE chief of staff, told Diálogo.

"In the city of Jama, we reinstalled a 55-meter Mabey-Johnson Bridge that had problems in the abutment, as well as another one over the Portoviejo River in the town of Torre Agua," Lt. Col. Merizalde added. "We also constructed 35 shelters in the days after the earthquake."

Another evaluated bridge was the one at Los Caras, which connects Bahía de Caráquez and San Vicente. This was one of the Ecuadorean Army's signature works. "For now, we are performing minor maintenance operations and will soon begin conducting long-term maintenance," Brig. Gen. Mosquera said. CEE constructed this bridge, which was inaugurated on November 4th, 2010. At 1,980 meters long, it is the country's longest bridge.

According to Army data, eight shelters were built in Esmeraldas and 27 in Manabí, which were the provinces most affected by the earthquake. The CEE removed 96,000 cubic meters of debris, purified more than two million gallons of water, transported 60,000 cuboc meters of rock material, cleared away 3,240 cubic meters of material collapsed onto highways, among other tasks.

Installation of bailey bridges

Bailey bridges have been used by the Ecuadorean Army for many years. "We have been working with bailey bridges for decades, so we're very familiar with talk of double-double, double-single, triple-single, something that is very common in the language of Ecuadorean military engineers," Brig. Gen. Mosquera said. "Even in building large-scale bridges, bailey bridges act as 'false work,' which is to say, using them as a starting point, we have been able to put very large and complex beams into place."

Using this modality, "we installed two bridges: one over the Aguarico River and the other over the Tigre River in the Ecuadorean Amazon," Brig. Gen. Mosquera added. The bridge over the Aguarico River in the Amazon province of Sucumbíos is 90 meters tall and 440 meters long. Built by CEE at a cost of US$ 29 million, it was inaugurated in February 2014. The bridge allows for the daily flow of 1,300 vehicles, thus making an approximately 40-minute-long barge-crossing unnecessary. The El Tigre Bridge, which crosses the Guamaní River in the Amazon province of Napo, was constructed by CEE at a cost of US$ 11.5 million and was inaugurated barely a week before the earthquake in April.