Death toll in Colombia mudslides rise to 254, including 43 children
MOCOA, ColombiaResidents of Mocoa were April 3 desperately searching for loved ones missing since devastating mudslides slammed into the remote Colombian town, as the death toll soared to over 250, including 43 children.
Many who survived the torrents of mud, boulders and debris that hit the town late March 31 gathered at the local hospital and at the cemetery to hunt for family members and friends they fear have been killed or injured.
The mudslide, caused when three rivers overflowed after days of torrential rain, swept away homes, bridges, vehicles and trees.
President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Mocoa to oversee relief operations and announced the death toll of 254 late April 2, warning that it could continue to rise.
“Unfortunately, these are still preliminary figures,” Santos wrote on Twitter, after giving an earlier toll of 210.
“We offer our prayers for all of them. We send our condolences and the entire country’s sympathies to their families.”
More than 200 people were injured in the disaster.
Rescuers worked in stifling heat under a cloudy sky in the remote Amazon town, the capital of Putumayo department.
Debris left by the mudslides was everywhere: buried cars, uprooted trees, children’s toys and stray shoes sticking up out of the mud.
Covered in mud, 38-year-old Marta Gomez told of going to search for her missing niece - and making a chilling find instead.
“I went to look for my niece, but I couldn’t find her. I dug and dug and found what turned out to be a baby’s hand. It was horrible,” she said in a shelter set up for the newly homeless.
As she stood in line waiting to register for government aide for those who lost their houses, Gomez told AFP she had given up on finding her niece.
“The mud took her away. I’ll never see her again,” she said, clinging to the leash of her equally muddy German shepherd.
Carlos Acosta said he forced himself to vomit mud to survive after he was swept away in the landslide.
“I was dying due to a lack of air - so what did I do? I stuck my finger in my mouth and vomited a lot of mud,” Acosta, 25, told AFP.
“Everything was mud. I kept vomiting mud. I sneezed out mud until I could breathe again,” said Acosta, 25, who was recovering from cuts and bruises from the ordeal.
But his pain ran deeper.
When Acosta woke up late March 31 to find water rushing into his home he managed to pick up his three year-old son Camilo. “But the water swept us away and then I was hit by rocks,” he said.
Acosta was knocked unconscious, and when he woke up there was no trace of the boy. The stunned father latched onto a tree branch and managed to extricate himself, but without his son.