Frantic search for survivors as Colombia mudslide death toll tops 200 | News | DW | 02.04.2017
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Frantic search for survivors as Colombia mudslide death toll tops 200

At least 234 people have died from mudslides in Colombia as rescue crews scramble to find survivors. The death toll is expected to rise.

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Deadly mudslides hit Mocoa, Colombia

Rescue crews dug through mud and debris on Sunday searching for survivors of a deadly mudslide in southern Colombia that left at least 234 dead.

Torrential rains swelled three rivers on Friday, sending a surge of mud, trees and wooden planks through streets and homes in the hardest-hit town of Mocoa, the capital of southern Putumayo province.

Apocalyptic scenes from the town of 40,000 people showed houses, bridges, vehicles and trees swept away, leaving piles of wrecked timber and mud.

"Dear God, I don't want to even remember that," said street vendor Marta Ceballos, who survived the mudslide after witnessing the death and destruction it left behind. 

"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.

President Juan Manuel Santos was set to return to Mocoa again on Sunday with several cabinet ministers to oversee the response to one of the biggest natural disasters in the South American country's history.

On Saturday, he declared a state of emergency and deployed the military and national rescue service as he arrived in Mocoa to "guarantee attention to the victims."

Some 1,000 rescue personnel, soldiers and local police are searching for more than 100 people still missing and helping overburdened local hospitals care for at least 200 wounded.  The death toll is expected to rise.

The Colombian Air Force transported 19 wounded to a hospital further north and was expected to transport another 20 soon.

Mocoa was left without water and electricity. Rescue efforts were hampered overnight by the lack of light and destroyed roads and infrastructure.

Authorities sent medical supplies, drinking water, stretchers and a hospital tent to aid overburdened local facilities. A key road that was cut off hampered rescue efforts until it was partially reopened early on Sunday morning.

Putumayo Governor Sorrel Aroca described the catastrophe as "an unprecedented tragedy." 

During prayers on Sunday, Pope Francis drew attention the disaster caused by a "the gigantic avalanche of mud" and prayed for victims and rescue crews. The German Foreign Ministry sent its condolences and said it was ready to help.

Santos attributed the heavy rains to climate change. Nearly 130 millimeters (5 inches) of rain fell on Friday night, or about 30 percent of monthly rainfall, causing several rivers to suddenly rise, he said.

The disaster in Mocoa is the latest to hit the Pacific coast of South America, with dozens killed by flooding in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador in recent months.

A top UN official in Colombia warned that climate change is triggering bigger and more frequent natural disasters.

"Climate change is generating dynamics and we see the tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency and magnitude of these natural effects, as we have just seen in Mocoa," said Martin Santiago, UN chief for Colombia.

cw/rc (AFP, AP)

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