Colombia mudslide, flooding kill 254 in midnight deluge - Media Shah Alam Colombia mudslide, flooding kill 254 in midnight deluge - Media Shah Alam

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10 TERKINI
Ahad, 2 April 2017

Colombia mudslide, flooding kill 254 in midnight deluge

MOCOA, Colombia: Apr 2 Flooding and mudslides in the Colombian city of Mocoa sent torrents of water and debris crashing onto houses in the early hours of Saturday morning, killing 254 people, injuring hundreds and sending terrified residents, some in their pajamas, scrambling to evacuate.

Heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks onto buildings and roads in the capital of southwestern Putumayo province and immobilizing cars in several feet of mud.

“It was torrential rainstorm, it got really strong between 11pm and 1am,” said local resident Mario Usale, 42, who was looking for his father-in-law in the debris.

“My mother-in-law was also missing, but we found her alive two kilometers away. She has head injuries, but she was conscious.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos flew to Mocoa, population 345,000, to oversee rescue efforts on the city outskirts and speak with affected families.

“We will do everything possible to help them,” Santos said after confirming the death toll. “It breaks my heart.”

The army said in a statement that 254 people were killed, 400 people had been injured and 200 were missing. More than 1,100 soldiers and police officers were called in to help dig people out in 17 affected neighborhoods.

Santos gave a lower death toll of 193 via Twitter.

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction of homes combine to make mud and landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster was daunting compared to recent tragedies, like a 2015 landslide that killed nearly 80 people in Salgar, Antioquia.

Colombia’s deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, left more than 20,000 dead.

“It’s a big area,” Mocoa Mayor Jose Antonio Castro, who lost his house, told Caracol radio on Saturday. “A big portion of the many houses were just taken by the avalanche.”

He said that people were warned ahead of time and many were able to get out, but several neighborhoods and two bridges had been destroyed.

Weather authorities said light rains were expected in the area on Saturday night and Sunday.

Photos posted on Twitter by the air force showed neighbourhood streets filled with mud and damaged houses, while videos on social media showed residents searching for survivors in the debris and struggling to move through waist-high water during the night.

NATION IN MOURNING

Putumayo Governor Sorrel Aroca called the development “an unprecedented tragedy” for the area.

There are “hundreds of families we have not yet found and whole neighborhoods have disappeared,” he told W Radio.

Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit, told AFP the mudslides were caused by the rise of the Mocoa River and tributaries.

The rivers flooded causing a “big avalanche,” the army said in a statement.

Some 130mm (5 inches) of rain fell Friday night, Santos said. “That means 30 per cent of monthly rainfall fell last night, which precipitated a sudden rise of several rivers,” he said.

He promised earlier on Twitter to “guarantee assistance to the victims of this tragedy, which has Colombians in mourning.”

“Our prayers are with the victims and those affected,” he added.

RESCUE EFFORTS

The authorities activated a crisis group including local officials, military personnel, police and rescuers to search for missing people and begin removing mountains of debris, Marquez said.

A thousand emergency personnel were helping the rescue effort. Mocoa was left without power or running water; there were reports of some looting in efforts to get water.

“There are lots of people in the streets, lots of people displaced and many houses have collapsed,” retired Mocoa resident Hernando Rodriguez, 69, said by telephone.

“People do not know what to do… there were no preparations” for such a disaster, he said.

“We are just starting to realize what has hit us.”

Several deadly landslides have struck Colombia in recent months.

A landslide in November killed nine people in the rural southwestern town of El Tambo, officials said at the time. A landslide the month before killed 10 people in the north of the country.

Climate change can play a big role in the scale of natural disasters, such as this one, a senior UN official said.

“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.

– Agencies/rw
-TMT


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