Colombian family recounts 'miracle' baby's landslide survival

Colombian Natalia Rincon shows a picture on May 20, 2015, of baby Jhoset Diaz, who survived a massive landslide that tore through a ravine in north-west Colombia on Monday before dawn, killing at least 83 people and injuring 40. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Colombian Natalia Rincon shows a picture on May 20, 2015, of baby Jhoset Diaz, who survived a massive landslide that tore through a ravine in north-west Colombia on Monday before dawn, killing at least 83 people and injuring 40. -- PHOTO: AFP 

SALGAR, Colombia (AFP) - Baby Jhoset was asleep in his crib when the wall of mud washed over La Margarita, sweeping away everything in its path, killing his mother and leaving him an orphan.

Somehow, the 11-month-old survived the landslide, which killed at least 83 people when the Liboriana River burst its banks early Monday and virtually obliterated the north-west Colombian town.

A rescue worker found him the next morning lying in the mud a kilometer away, banged and bruised but very much alive.

"The river pulled him to a flat bank where there was some sludge, and a man saw him there. He was flailing, even crawling with his little body, on his little stomach, and I think that's how they found him, face-down and struggling to get out," said Natalia Rincon, his cousin.

Jhoset and his mother had travelled from the nearby municipality of Andes for a family reunion in Salgar, the municipality where La Margarita is located.

The landslide took a devastating toll on the family, for whom Jhoset's survival is the lone source of hope amid unimaginable devastation, said Rincon.

"It's more than a miracle. We're missing 15 relatives and amidst it all there's the miracle of the boy found alive. Just think what a big miracle that is," she told AFP.

Reports said Jhoset was unconscious when he reached medics four hours after the landslide, with lacerations on his whole body, bruised lungs and a fractured rib - but still breathing.

Relatives found him in a hospital in Medellin, the regional capital 100km away, which is helping deal with the enormous influx of dead and wounded.

"We found him because we went to the hospital to see if any of our family members were there. When we went in he was on a little stretcher. We recognised him right away. He just had a little bruise on his ribs and he was very cold," said Rincon.

Doctors say Jhoset is recovering well and does not have brain damage.

"He was clinging so tightly to life that all he does now is laugh and eat. When he sees his grandpa he's happy, when he sees his aunt he's happy. I think he laughs all the time," said Rincon.

The family has so far found 10 relatives' bodies. Five more are still missing, but hope of finding them alive is slim.

Jhoset's mother was among the victims. His father had died soon after his birth.

Rincon described Jhoset as a joyful, affectionate boy.

He appears happy and smiling in the picture the family picked for the invitation to his first birthday party on June 14, which shows him wearing a chef's hat, covered in flour and looking pleased with the cake in front of him.

He is expected to be home from the hospital in time for his birthday. His family is looking forward to having something to celebrate.