The Colombian Armed Forces sent four helicopters to Peru, logging 200 flight hours over 12 days, as they carried out 30 aeromedical evacuations, shipped 42 tons of aid, and rescued more than 1,000 people. Natural disasters in the country have left more than 100,000 homeless and another 650,000 affected to a lesser extent. As for infrastructure, nearly 2,500 kilometers of highways and 281 bridges were destroyed, as well as 28,000 hectares of crops.
In March 2017 alone, 106 people in this Andean nation went missing from mudslides caused by at least six coastal rivers overflowing their banks. These floods, which have impacted Peru and Ecuador, are due to the “Coastal El Niño,” an atmospheric phenomenon characterized by unusual warming of the sea along the coasts of those countries. The humidity caused by the warming led to heavy rains, causing mudslides and flooding that have impacted various communities in both countries. Peru was the country hardest hit.
Partner nations always ready
The state of emergency spurred the Colombian Armed Forces to come to Peru’s aid and provide the necessary support. From March 21st to April 1st, the military conducted a joint effort coordinated by Colombia’s National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD, per its Spanish acronym), the firefighter corps, and the Foreign Relations Office. The support plan for Peru consisted of making available 42 search-and-rescue team members, including officers and non-commissioned officers, a Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym) Boeing 727, as well as UNGRD personnel and search-and-rescue and satellite equipment.
On the other hand, the Colombian Army provided one ton of humanitarian aid and two helicopters to aid victims in the region of San Pedro, Trujillo, which had been cut off from the rest of the department after the collapse of the Virú bridge. Over the course of 59 flight hours, they served as an air bridge, transporting 762 stranded people, and delivering 31 tons of aid. In turn, the FAC dispatched two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to Piura, where they transported 318 people, carried out 21 air medevac missions, and shipped 42 tons of aid over 83 total flight hours.
“Colombia is a country that has also suffered terribly from the whims of the weather. Various communities across the country are frequently impacted by floods and that’s why, in addition to the responsibility we have to aid our neighboring countries, we feel called upon to come to Peru’s aid,” stated Major General Juan Carlos Salazar, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Colombian Armed Forces. “Colombia has broad experience in rescue operations carried out in the harshest conditions – at night, in the jungle, and under fire. The capabilities that our men and women have acquired, and our specialized aircraft and equipment, enable us to respond effectively to floods, fires, and earthquakes, among other natural disasters that are common in this country,” he said.
Operating in Peru
Following Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s request for aid from Colombia to cope with the flood emergency, the Colombian Army activated its international interoperability protocol. These kinds of coordinated operations are possible thanks to the joint training carried out by the two nations as part of their cooperation agreements. Moreover, there is an active Peru-Colombia emergency system that is used in these kinds of situations.
According to Colonel Juan Carlos Forero, Colombia’s military attaché in Peru, President Kuczynski requested four helicopters from the Colombian Ministry of Defense to respond to the emergency. The following day, the helicopters departed for the neighboring country with expert crews and aid aboard. “The first workdays consisted of coordinating our special rescue operation and our aeromedical evacuation of the sick and injured, the transport of people who had been stranded, and serving as an air bridge between communities, among other duties that were carried out successfully, free of accidents,” Col. Forero said.
The terrain in the northern part of Peru made operations difficult. For one thing, the region has sandy desert landscapes that do not easily retain water from heavy rainfall, giving rise to mudflows that devastate everything in their path. In Peru, these mudflows are called huaicos. “When the mud dries, it turns into a dust that is hard to deal with, and it gives off a rather intense odor. Clearing it away is exhausting work. When the huaicos come down, they leave an indelible mark,” Col. Forero said.
“Operations were performed at 12,000 feet, an altitude that involves a high level of risk because those communities are close to the sea and are known for having crosswinds that demand a higher level [of experience] from the crew,” Col. Forero said. “Fortunately, the Colombian Armed Forces has had the necessary training to cope with these kinds of conditions and we were able to share those skills with our military peers in Peru through our teamwork,” he concluded.