At least 200 killed in Colombia after floodwaters smash through city – Business Insider


Colombia mudslide
An
aerial view shows a flooded area after heavy rains caused several
rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and
roads in Mocoa, Colombia April 1, 2017.

Cesar Carrion/Colombian Presidency/Handout via
Reuters


BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Rescuers prying through piles of rocks
and wooden planks left by floodwaters from three rivers that
surged through a Colombian city vowed to resume their search at
first light Sunday as the death toll from one of the worst
disasters in the country’s recent history neared 200.

With no electricity to light Mocoa, authorities were forced to
suspend the search Saturday night almost a day after heavy rains
caused the rivers to overflow and send a wall of water through
the city near the Ecuador border around midnight, sweeping away
homes, cars and trees while residents slept in their beds.

President Juan Manuel Santos said 193 people had been killed and
authorities said as many as 220 were feared missing. The bodies
were being placed in a temporary morgue where three teams of
medical examiners were working around the clock to swiftly
identify the remains.

“They are going to work 24 hours a day,” said Carlos Valdes,
director of the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic
Science, the agency leading the medical team working to identify
the deceased.

Authorities and residents in the city tucked between mountains
along Colombia’s southern border spent Saturday tending to
victims, trying to find homes on streets reduced to masses of
rubble and engaged in a desperate search to locate loved one who
disappeared in the dark of night. Authorities expect the death
toll to rise.

Eduardo Vargas, 29, was asleep with his wife and 7-month-old baby
when he was awoken by the sound of neighbors banging on his door.
He quickly grabbed his family and fled up a small mountain amid
the cries of people in panic.

“There was no time for anything,” he said.

Vargas and his family huddled with about two dozen other
residents as rocks, trees and wooden planks ripped through their
neighborhood below. They waited there until daylight, when
members of the military helped them down.

When he reached the site of his home Saturday, nothing his family
left behind remained.

“Thank God we have our lives,” he said.

Santos traveled to Mocoa and declared the city a disaster zone
Saturday. The Air Force transported 19 patients to a city further
north and said 20 more would be evacuated soon. Medicine and
surgical supplies were being sent to the city as the area’s
regional hospital struggled to cope with the magnitude of the
crisis.


Colombia mudslide Mocoa
A
family sitting outside their house destroyed after heavy rains
caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks
into buildings and roads in Mocoa, Colombia April 1,
2017.

REUTERS/Jaime
Saldarriaga


Herman Granados, an anesthesiologist, said he worked throughout
the night on victims and that the hospital doesn’t have a blood
bank large enough to deal with the number of patients and was
quickly running out of its supply.

Some of the hospital workers came to help even while there are
own relatives remained missing.

“Under the mud,” Granados said, “I am sure there are many more.”

Santos blamed climate change for triggering the avalanche, saying
that the accumulated rainfall in one night was almost half the
amount Mocoa normally receives in the entire month of March. With
the rainy season in much of Colombia just beginning, he said
local and national authorities need to redouble their efforts to
prevent a similar tragedy.


Colombia mudslide 2
A
man looks at a destroyed area after heavy rains caused several
rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and
roads in Mocoa, Colombia April 1, 2017.

REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

The crisis is likely to be remembered as one of the worst natural
disasters in recent Colombian history, though the Andean nation
has experienced even more destructive environmental catastrophes.
Nearly 25,000 people were killed in 1985 after the Nevado del
Ruiz volcano erupted and triggered a deluge of mud and debris
that buried the town of Armero.

As rescuers shifted through debris, many residents in Mocoa were
conducting their own searches for lost loved one.

Oscar Londono tried in vain throughout the night to reach his
wife’s parents, whose home is right along one of the flooded
rivers. He decided it was too dangerous to try to reach them in
the dark. So he called over and over by phone but got no answer.

Once the sun began to rise he started walking toward their house
but found all the streets he usually takes missing. As he tried
to orient himself he came across the body of a young woman
dressed in a mini-skirt and black blouse.

He checked her pulse but could not find one.

“There were bodies all over,” he said.

When he finally reached the neighborhood where his in-laws live
he found “just mud and rocks.” Rescue workers with the military
oriented him toward the mountain, where he found his relatives
camped with other survivors.

“To know they were alive,” he said, “it was a reunion of tears.”

___

Associated Press writers Cesar Garcia and Alba Tobella in Bogota,
Colombia, contributed to this report.

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