Colombian rescuers have been searching frantically for hundreds of missing people after the southern city of Mocoa was engulfed on Saturday by a huge landslide of mud, rocks and gushing waters that swept away homes and cars and killed more than 200 people, according to reports on the UK Guardian.
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The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos arrived in Mocoa on Sunday to survey the crisis and said that officials from the national disaster agency had counted 207 dead by Sunday morning, with 43 children among the victims, and the death toll expected to rise.
Gabriel Umaña, a spokesman for the Colombian Red Cross, told CNN 234 people had died and 220 are missing.
Some reports, like that on itv.com claim that more than 250 have been killed after the mud landslide buried homes while residents were asleep.
Without power, gas or telephone service and with little clean water, about 600 survivors spent Sunday in makeshift shelters, on high alert for any further rainfall that could trigger another mudslide.
Lists of children who could not find their parents circulated on social media to try to reunite families, while about 1,100 soldiers and police arrived to help the relief effort.
The disaster struck in the early hours of Saturday when the rushing waters of the Mocoa river and its tributaries converged on the provincial capital of Putumayo, catching many people by surprise as they slept.
As the waters rose, one woman identified as Laura Montoya called an emergency helpline from the roof of her house. “We are at risk of dying,” she said, according to an account from the president’s office. “The water has filled up half the house.”
More than 1,000 emergency personnel, including soldiers and local police were deployed to help the rescue effort and to keep order. Some shops were looted overnight on Saturday by survivors searching for water.
On Saturday, Santos blamed the tragedy on climate change, saying that the accumulated rainfall in one night was almost half the amount Mocoa normally receives in the entire month of March, the UK Guardian reports.
The governor of Putumayo, Sorrel Aroca, told Caracol Radio that the local hospital was overwhelmed by the number of injured, and medicine and surgical supplies were being sent to the city.
Herman Granados, an anaesthesiologist, told reporters he worked throughout the night. “Under the mud, I am sure there are many more,” he said.
The Mocoa mudslide is the deadliest in a wave of flood-related disasters in South America in recent months. Floods and mudslides since the start of the year in Peru have left 101 people dead. In Ecuador, 21 people have died in flooding.
A landslide in Colombia’s rural south-west in November killed nine people, and another in October killed 10 people in the north of the country.
In 1985 nearly 25,000 people were killed after the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted, triggering a torrent of mud and debris that buried the town of Armero.