At least 234 killed, 200 wounded in Colombia mudslides

Bogot? - Bogota, ColombiaUpdated: Apr 02, 2017, 10:51 PM IST
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Handout picture released by the Colombian Army press office showing people helping to carry a woman after mudslides following heavy rains Photograph:(AFP)

At least 234 people have been killed after torrential rain overnight triggered fatal mudslides in southern Colombia, the Red Cross said.

The Colombian Red Cross, which provided the revised consolidated toll, said it was unclear how many people were still missing.

At least 202 people were wounded, more than 100 people missing, 300 families affected and 25 homes destroyed, the Colombian Red Cross said, citing information complied from rescue workers.

President Juan Manuel Santos declared a state of emergency in the region.

The tragedy struck after heavy downpour caused rivers to burst their banks, sweeping away houses, bridges, vehicles and trees.

Southwestern Colombian town of Mocoa was the most stricken area, with army images showing wrecked timber and brown mud to have swamped the place.

"The number is rising enormously and at considerable speed," Rescue official Cesar Urena told AFP.

The disaster is of "large proportions," he added.

This incident is the latest in a series of floods that have struck the Pacific side of South America in recent months.

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 130 millimeters (5 inches) of rain fell Friday night, Santos said. "That means 30 percent 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, a town of 40,000 people, was left without power or running 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" made for such a disaster, he said.

"We are just scarcely realizing what has happened to us."

Several deadly landslides have struck Colombia in recent months.

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

A landslide the month before killed 10 people in the north of the country.

(WION with inputs from AFP)