MOCOA (Colombia) • The number of deaths from overnight flooding and mudslides in the Colombian city of Mocoa has risen to 254, as President Juan Manuel Santos warned that it was not possible to predict the death toll with hundreds of people still missing.
Heavy rain caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and onto roads late last Friday in the capital of south-western Putumayo province, and immobilising cars in several metres of mud.
"It was a torrential rainstorm, it got really strong between 11pm and 1am," said local resident Mario Usale, 42, who was searching for his father-in-law in the debris. "My mother-in-law was also missing, but we found her alive 2km away. She has head injuries, but she was conscious."
People were seen in video footage crying over a list of missing children, whose names along with their ages were pinned up at a family welfare centre, the BBC reported.
"We have lost a baby, who has gone missing, and the rest is as you can see," one resident told reporters. "A little baby, we can't find him anywhere."
The army said in a statement that 254 people were killed, 400 people injured and 200 missing.
Mr Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit, said the mudslides were caused by the rise of the Mocoa River and its tributaries.
Mr Santos, who flew to Mocoa to oversee the rescue efforts on the outskirts of the city and speak with affected families, noted that some 130mm of rain fell last Friday night.
"That means 30 per cent of monthly rainfall fell last night, which precipitated a sudden rise of several rivers," he said.
Even in a country where heavy rain, 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 with other 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.
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.
More than 1,100 soldiers and police officers were called in to help dig people out of the debris in 17 affected neighbourhoods.
"Dear God, I don't want to even remember that," said street vendor Marta Ceballos.
"To see how some people screamed, and others cried, ran, tried to flee in cars, on motorcycles, and how they were trapped in the mud. It is all too, too difficult."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Deadly mudslides in recent years
PARIS • Mudslides can inflict a devastating toll in poor countries, where ramshackle houses are built on or near slopes vulnerable to heavy rain.
Here is a snapshot of deadly incidents since 2010:
More than 200 people were killed and hundreds left injured or missing in southern Colombia after mudslides, driven by days of torrential rain, struck last Friday.
The incident was the third of its kind in less than seven years. On May 18, 2015, 92 people were killed in Salgar, a mountain city 100km from the north-western city of Medellin. On Dec 5, 2010, 45 people died in a Medellin suburb and 100 more were listed as missing.
An Oct 2, 2015, mudslides following severe flooding buried more than 100 homes, leaving 280 people dead and 70 missing in the village of Santa Catarina Pinula, just outside Guatemala City, the capital.
Landslides amid torrential rain swept more than 800 people to their deaths on Jan 12, 2011, in a mountainous area near Rio de Janeiro.
On April 7, 2010, 200 people were listed as missing after another landslide at a favela in Niteroi, near Rio.
Days earlier, 250 people died as torrential rain elsewhere in Rio state brought flooding and rockslides.
Mudslides and rockslides wreaked havoc on May 2, 2014, on the north-eastern village of Aab Bareek in the Badakhshan region, leaving at least 350 people dead, according to United Nations estimates.
Some 350 Ugandans were killed on March 1, 2010, when a torrent of mud devastated three villages in the eastern Mount Elgon region.
Monsoon downpours brought flooding and landslides on June 15, 2013, killing 6,000 people in northern India, with Uttarakhand state the worst affected.
Three years earlier, on Aug 5, 2010, abnormally high rainfall in the Himalayan region of Ladakh led to huge mudslides which devastated the regional capital Leh and its environs. Some 200 people died, with 400 more listed as missing.