Colombia is in mourning after a massive mudslide that left more than 200 dead, hundreds of missing and injured, following heavy rains in the Andean region, including Peru and Ecuador.
The Red Cross has listed 206 dead, 202 injured and 220 missing, after the disaster that ravaged the town of Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo in the south of the country, late Friday night, and whose balance could still increase.
“Our hearts are with the families of the victims and the people affected by this tragedy,” said President Juan Manuel Santos, who took the rescue department and declared the state of “public calamity” to “speed up”.
The images of this city of 40,000 inhabitants, deprived of electricity and running water, are impressive: streets overgrown with mud and rocks, soldiers carrying children in the rubble, inhabitants in tears, crushed cars and waste everywhere.
“Unfortunately, the most recent figures (…) are: 193 dead and 202 injured,” Santos said. A Red Cross official told AFP that he was referring to the identified victims of the mudslide caused by floods, which descended on Mocoa around 11.30pm on Friday (0430 GMT Saturday).
– Catastrophe of ‘large dimension’ –
“You could hear the sound of the river and that’s why my family came out because we knew the avalanche was coming,” Harvey Gomez told AFP. As night fell, this 38-year-old official was trying to recover the little that could be saved in his devastated house.
Speaking of a “big” disaster, the director of the Red Cross relief service, César Urueña, said 300 families were affected, 17 districts badly damaged and 25 buildings destroyed.
Many survivors told Mr. Santos that they had perched on the roofs because the water reached their necks. Lina Marcela Morales sought Saturday five of her relatives who “slept and did not have time to leave their already flooded house,” according to his narrative broadcast by the presidency.
“There are many people on the streets, many victims, many homes destroyed,” Hernando Rodriguez, a 69-year-old resident told AFP.
According to the pensioner, “people do not know what to do”, “we were not prepared” for such a catastrophe. “We have a hard time knowing what happened to us,” he added.
Severe rain, due to the El Niño climatic phenomenon, has been affecting the Andean region in northwestern Latin America for several weeks. They also caused flooding in Peru, with 101 deaths and more than 900,000 displaced, and in Ecuador, which deplores 21 deaths and 1,280 disaster victims.
On Friday evening, 130 milliliters of rain fell, or 30% of the monthly average in Mocoa. The disaster occurred following the overflowing of the Mocoa, Mulato and Sangoyaco rivers, which flow overhanging the city.
– Displaced war victims –
“This is an unprecedented tragedy, (there are) hundreds of families that we have not yet found, entire neighborhoods missing,” said Putumayo governor Sorrel Aroca at W Radio.
The businesses were closed after “looting of places selling water,” said firefighter David Silva, according to which most of the devastated neighborhoods were inhabited by displaced people from the armed conflict that has been tearing Colombia since the 1960s.
The rainfall on Mocoa should go “gradually decreasing” from Sunday, said Diego Suarez, of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies of Colombia (Ideam).
More than 1,000 soldiers and policemen are involved in the rescue, according to Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, who is also on hand, as do other members of the government.
According to the National Disaster Risk Management Unit (UNGRD), more than seven tons of medical equipment, water, and electricity supplies were shipped to Mocoa.
France, the European Union, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela, among others, expressed their solidarity.
“Climate change generates dynamics and we see the serious results in terms of intensity, frequency, and magnitude (…) as in Mocoa,” deplored the head of the UN delegation in Colombia, Martin Santiago.