Colombia mudslides kill more than 200, sweep homes away
MOCOA, ColombiaRescuers clawed through piles of mud and twisted debris on April 2 searching for 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 southwestern 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 late March 31 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 neighborhoods hit hard,” Colombian Red Cross chief Cesar Uruena told AFP.
On April 2 President Juan Manuel Santos was set to return to the town, the capital of Putumayo department, with cabinet ministers to supervise rescue efforts in the heavily forested region.
Santos met with rescuers and survivors in Mocoa on April 1, 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’s all too, too difficult,” she told AFP.
Ceballos said that she lost all of her material possessions. “The only things I fortunately did not lose were 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 neighborhoods have disappeared,” he told W Radio.
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.
Some 130 millimeters (5 inches) of rain fell on the night of March 31, President Santos said. “That means 30 percent of monthly rainfall fell last night, which precipitated a sudden rise of several rivers,” he said.
He promised earlier on Twitter to “guarantee assistance to the victims of this tragedy, which has Colombians in mourning.”
“Our prayers are with the victims and those affected,” he added.
Turkey offers condolences on Colombia’s mudslide deaths
The Turkish Foreign Ministry on April 2 offered condolences to families of victims who died when three rivers in southern Colombia burst their banks.
“We share the sorrow of the people of Colombia and Turkey stands by Colombia in its difficult time. Turkey is ready to help, if need be,” according to the statement issued by the ministry.
“We offer our condolences to families of people who lost their lives and people of Colombia, and wish the injured a quick recovery,” it added.