Colombia’s authorities are preparing for a possible rupture of the country’s largest hydro-electric dam.
Whether builders can finish Hidroituango, the hydro-electric dam that was supposed to provide 20% of Colombia’s energy needs, has become increasingly uncertain.
According to foreign experts, Medellin public utilities company EPM failed to adequately inform the public about the increased risk of collapse as it lost control over the project in April and May.
The company’s emergency efforts to finish building the dam wall were not according to international standards, United Nations experts told the Environment Ministry in a letter that was leaked to the media.
Some 30 leaks that have reportedly been found could erode the structure, and cause a partial or entire collapse.
The ongoing diversion of water through the engine room could also severely weaken the dam and the mountain supporting the project.
Preparing for the worst
Geological and meteorological institute IDEAM has prepared a simulation of what such tragedy would mean for the towns located downstream.
The initial flood, the IDEAM said, could reach a height of almost 30 meters at Puerto Antioquia, and 18 meters by the time it reaches the towns of Caceres and Taraza.
The sheer force of the water and the flow of debris could destroy the lower parts of the towns entirely.
In total, some 18 municipalities would be hit by floods as the water finds its way through the Cauca river valley to the wetlands near the Caribbean Sea.
Blame game has begun
The UN report and claims by independent geologists have put EPM and Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez with their back against the wall.
Antioquia Governor Luis Perez has accused EPM of putting the lives of people at risk by understating the risk level of the construction problems that occurred less than half a year before the hydroelectric project was supposed to begin generating power.
Press freedom foundation FLIP allegedly accused EPM and Medellin city hall of trying to impede locals from talking to press and trying to hide public information about water level in the Cauca River. Workers were allegedly threatened not to talk to reporters.
Builders and engineers continue to work around the clock in a last-ditch effort to save the project.