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Colombians search for landslide survivors as death toll rises above 200

Residents of a small city in southern Colombia are searching for loved ones after heavy rain sent floodwaters, mud and debris surging through homes, killing at least 207 and leaving many injured or missing.

The streets of Mocoa were covered in thick sand, mud and tree branches from the rivers and forest that surround the city.

There was little drinking water and no power, which forced authorities to suspend the search and rescue effort during the night.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who has declared Mocoa a disaster area, said that at least 207 were killed in the landslide but that the death toll was changing "every moment".

Authorities said another 200 people, many of them children, were injured and just as many were unaccounted for amid the destruction.

Bodies were placed in a temporary morgue where three teams of medical examiners were working around the clock to swiftly identify the remains.

Juan Chanchi de Ruiz, 74, said the noise of the surging flood woke her up and gave her enough time to get to higher ground.

Her house was not damaged but the homes of several neighbours were heavily damaged and many people were fleeing with their belongings as the river water remained high.

"Around here, there's nobody. Everybody left," she said.

"People went to their houses and found nothing but the floor," said Gilma Diaz, a 42-year-old woman from another town who came in search of a cousin.

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 ones who disappeared in the dark of night.

Eduardo Vargas, 29, was asleep with his wife and seven-month-old baby when he was awoken by the sound of neighbours banging on his door.

He quickly grabbed his family and fled up a small mountain amid cries of people in panic.

Mr Vargas and his family huddled with about two dozen other residents as rocks, trees and wooden planks ripped through below.

They waited there until daylight, when members of the military helped them down.

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

Mr Santos blamed climate change for triggering the avalanche, saying 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.

The tragedy drew international attention, with Pope Francis mentioning the catastrophe during his Angelus blessing on Sunday on a visit to the northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna, which was struck by a pair of deadly earthquakes five years ago.



From Belfast Telegraph