Rescue crews searched for survivors after mudslides devastated areas of southern Colombia, killing at least 200 people. Triggered by sudden, heavy storms, mud and water swept away hundreds of homes.
A mudslide triggered late on Friday by heavy rains in Colombia's southern Putumayo province has reportedly killed at least 200 people. Rescue crews are scrambling to save dozens more who have gone missing.
At least 234 people were confirmed dead, 202 injured, 220 missing, according to Colombian Red Cross chief Cesar Uruena.
Images of the town of Mocoa showed houses, bridges, vehicles and trees swept away, leaving piles of wrecked timber and brown mud.
Governor Sorrel Aroca of the Putumayo department described the catastrophe as "an unprecedented tragedy," saying that "hundreds of families have not yet been found and whole neighborhoods missing."
Meanwhile, President Juan Manuel Santos declared a state of emergency and ordered rescue crews and the military to respond to the disaster in the town of Mocoa, where he arrived to "guarantee attention to the victims."
Upon arriving in Mocoa on Saturday, Santos said the death toll could rise. The town of 40,000 people was also left without water and electricity.
Rescue efforts were also being hampered by continuing bad weather and damaged infrastructure.
"There are mobility issues on almost 80 percent of the roads, and from where the road ends, it is three hours to where the landslide took place," said one police officer.
Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper said a wider loss of life had been avoided due to the alarm that was sounded as the river's levels rose, leading many people to flee their homes for safety.
30 percent of monthly rainfall in one night
The mudslides in the heavily forested province were caused by the rise of water levels in the Mocoa River and three tributaries, sending mud and debris into homes overnight.
According to President Santos, some 130 millimeters (5 inches) of rain fell on Friday night.
"That means 30 percent of monthly rainfall fell last night, which precipitated a sudden rise of several rivers," he said.
Although landslides and heavy rains are common in the mountainous area, close to Ecuador and Peru, the state meteorological agency said March was Colombia's rainiest month in six years.
ksb/gsw (AFP, AP)