Monday 1 May 2017

Hundreds still missing as death toll from Colombia mudslides hits 200

Alba Tobella Bogota

A grim search for the missing has resumed in southern Colombia after surging rivers sent an avalanche of floodwaters, mud and debris through a city, killing at least 200 people and leaving many more injured and homeless.

A grim search for the missing has resumed in southern Colombia after surging rivers sent an avalanche of floodwaters, mud and debris through a city, killing at least 200 people and leaving many more injured and homeless.

People in Mocoa searched through piles of rocks and wooden planks that entombed homes. Streets were covered in thick sand, mud and tree limbs from the rivers and rainforest that surround the city. There was little drinking water and no power, which forced authorities to suspend the search and rescue effort during the night.

The National Disaster Agency said the death toll had hit 200, with another 200 injured, but authorities conceded it could easily go higher because many people were still unaccounted for and dozens, mostly children, were airlifted to hospitals in other cities in critical condition. Bodies were being placed in a temporary morgue where three teams of medical examiners were working around the clock to swiftly identify the remains.

In addition, Governor Sorrel Aroca of Putumayo Department, which includes Mocoa, said there were also people reported missing in surrounding communities.

Authorities and residents in the city, tucked between mountains along Colombia's southern border, spent the weekend tending to victims, trying to find homes on streets reduced to masses of rubble and engaged in a desperate search to locate loved ones who disappeared in the dark of night.

Eduardo Vargas (29), was asleep with his wife and seven-month-old baby when he was awoken by the sound of neighbours banging on his door. He quickly grabbed his family and fled up a small mountain amid the cries of people in panic.

"There was no time for anything," he said.

Huddled

Mr Vargas and his family huddled with about two dozen other residents as rocks, trees and wooden planks ripped through their neighbourhood below. They waited there until daylight, when members of the military helped them down.

When he reached the site of his home, nothing his family left behind remained.

"Thank God we have our lives," he said.

President Juan Manuel Santos travelled to Mocoa and declared the city a disaster zone. Medicine and surgical supplies were being sent to the city as the area's regional hospital struggled to cope with the crisis.

Mr Santos blamed climate change for the rains that triggered the avalanche.

Irish Independent

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