World

Over 200 killed in Colombia mudslides

Town in south-west Colombia devastated by severe flooding

MOCOA, COLOMBIA Rescuers clawed through piles of mud and twisted debris yesterday in search of survivors after violent mudslides destroyed homes in southern Colombia, killing over 200 people and injuring hundreds more.

They were the latest victims of deadly floods and mudslides that have struck the Pacific side of South America over recent months, also killing scores of people in Peru and Ecuador.

In the south-western Colombian town of Mocoa, a sudden surge of mud and water swept away homes, bridges, vehicles and trees, leaving piles of wrecked timber buried in thick mud.

The mudslides slammed Mocoa on Saturday morning after days of torrential rain in the Amazon basin area town of 40,000.

"The latest information we have is that there are 206 people confirmed dead, 202 injured, 220 missing, 17 neighbourhoods hit hard," Colombian Red Cross chief Cesar Uruena told AFP.

President Juan Manuel Santos is set to return to the town yesterday, the capital of Putumayo department, with cabinet ministers to supervise rescue efforts in the heavily-forested region.

EMERGENCY

Mr Santos met with rescuers and survivors in Mocoa on Saturday and declared a public health and safety emergency to speed up rescue and aid operations.

"Dear God, I don't want to even remember that," said street vendor Marta Ceballos, who survived the mudslide.

"To see how some people screamed and others cried, ran, tried to flee in cars, on motorcycles, and how they were trapped in the mud. It was all too, too difficult," she told AFP.

Ms Ceballos said she lost all of her material possessions.

"The things I fortunately did not lose are my husband, my daughters and my nephews," she said.

Putumayo Governor Sorrel Aroca called the event "an unprecedented tragedy" for the area.

There are "hundreds of families we have not yet found and whole neighbourhoods have disappeared," he told W Radio.

Mr Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit, told AFP the mudslides were caused by the rise of the Mocoa River and tributaries.

The flooded rivers caused a "big avalanche", the army said in a statement. - AFP

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