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Colombia landslide kills 15, blocks major highway

July 19, 2023

Colombian President offered condolences and pushed for more stringent urban planning to tackle seasonal flooding. Rescue operations were suspended at nightfall with more than a dozen people still missing.

Rescue workers and locals conduct search operations.
A landslide in Colombia has left several people dead while some are still missingImage: Juan Barreto/AFP

A mudslide in central Colombia killed at least 15 people, officials said on Tuesday.

The landslide, which blocked a major highway that connects Bogota to the country's eastern plains, was unleashed by heavy rainfalls that flooded three streams.

Firefighting captain Alvaro Farfan told the media that 15 people were found "lifeless" and that six people were injured.

Families search for loved ones

The avalanche took down several homes in Quetame, a municipality 62 kilometers (38.5 miles) southeast of Bogota. It also swept over a toll booth and tore down a bridge on the Bogota-Villavicencio highway.

An aerial view of the site of the disaster struck region in Quetame.
The avalanche took down several homes in QuetameImage: Juan Barreto/AFP

Many homes built along the hillsides, close to the rivers, were affected. Family members rushed to the scene to look for their loved ones.

Alejandro Bernal traveled from Bogota to look for his grandmother, uncle, cousins and friends who live in Quetame.

"We want to help in some way, look for the bodies. Even if we cannot find them (alive), at least we will know about them and give them a holy burial," he told AFP.

Colombia President Gustavo Petro gave his condolences and tweeted that the disaster "demonstrates that there is an imperative need" for local officials to plan urban areas more rigorously.

The mudslide will disrupt commerce between eastern Colombia and Bogota, which is a key transit route for beef, rice and palm oil.

Rescue operations paused temporarily

Rescue teams were forced to temporarily suspend search operations due to nightfall on Tuesday, said Farfan. He added that the operation would resume in the morning.

At least 13 people are still missing.

A rescue worker wading through debris in Colombia
At least 13 people are still missingImage: Juan Barreto/AFP

The Quetame Mayor Camilo Parrado explained that the mud had piled up to one to two meters in certain places, making it a "very complex" search and rescue operation.

The army announced that it would deploy 80 soldiers to aid the search operation.

A recurring phenomena

The monsoon in Colombia which started in June usually lasts until November.

Last year, seasonal flooding left some 300 people dead overall.

Deadly landslide strikes Colombia

Colombia declared a national disaster in 2022 over the torrential rains which were linked to an exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and causes flooding in several parts of the world.

The UN's World Meteorological Organization earlier this month said that many recent events in the region were influenced by La Nina but "also bore the hallmark of human-induced climate change."

ns/jsi (AFP, AP)