Colombians woke up on Saturday to a devastating landslide that left at least 193 dead in the south-west of the country, after heavy rains caused rivers to overflow. The avalanche propelled sediment on to buildings and bridges, as homes and cars were swept away in the city of Mocoa in Putumayo.
“We have adults, women and infants,” police commander Colonel Omar Bonilla told a Colombian radio on Saturday. Photos and videos show streets filled with mud, rocks and tree-trunks, while residents and soldiers look for survivors among the debris. There is an unknown number of people missing.
More than 1,100 security forces have been deployed to find and rescue survivors. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos travelled to the area and called it a “terrible tragedy”, declaring a state of emergency to enable rescue operations.
“We will do everything possible to help them . . . Here we are facing a disaster that is a product of nature and climate change,” said Mr Santos, who is already battling a backlash against a peace deal with Marxist rebels and facing a scandal linked to payments made by disgraced Brazilian builder Odebrecht.
José Antonio Castro, mayor of the provincial capital Mocoa, told Colombian radio station Caracol that the city of 345,000 inhabitants was “totally isolated”, without electricity and water. “A big portion of the many houses were just taken by the avalanche,” he said. “Houses in 17 neighbourhoods have basically been erased.”
“My house is destroyed,” Mr Castro said. “The mud is almost up to the roof.”
The disaster brought back nightmares of when a mudflow swept away the town of Armero, killing over 25,000 people in 1985 after a nearby volcano erupted. “How do we live this?” Orlando Dávila, a survivor of the Mocoa disaster told Colombia’s weekly Semana on Saturday. “Imagine, like it is a small version of Armero.”
Landslides pushed by heavy rains are commonplace in some areas of the country. However, the Colombian meteorological agency said March was the rainiest month in the Andean nation since 2011. In neighbouring Peru, more than 90 people have already died this year because of unusually heavy rainfall, which caused floods.
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