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Race to reach survivors as mudslide kills nearly 200 in Colombia

© LUIS ROBAYO / AFP | People walk through the rubble left by mudslides following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo department, southern Colombia on April 1, 2017

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-04-02

A landslide in Colombia's southwestern border province of Putumayo sent mud and debris crashing onto houses overnight, killing almost 200 people and injuring scores, officials said on Saturday.

Heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks onto buildings and roads in the provincial capital of Mocoa and with cars stuck in several feet of mud.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos flew to Mocoa, population 345,000, to oversee rescue efforts on the outskirts of the city and speak to the affected families.

"We will do everything possible to help them," Santos said after confirming the death toll. "It breaks my heart."

Officials were working to determine the number of missing, Santos said.

Nearly 200 people were injured, the defence ministry said, and more than 1,100 soldiers and police officers have been called in to help the desperate rescue operation.

"We have sent a team of 150 people to make our response effective and machinery began work immediately," Carlos Ivan Marquez, head of the national disaster unit, said in a statement.

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and the haphazard construction of homes combine to make landslides a common occurrence in Colombia, the scale of the Mocoa disaster is overwhelming. For example, a 2015 landslide killed nearly 80 people in Salgar, Antioquia.

Death toll in Colombia flood likely to rise

"It's a big area," Mocoa Mayor Jose Antonio Castro, who lost his own house, told Caracol radio on Saturday. "A big portion of the many houses were just taken by the avalanche."

He said that people were warned ahead of time and many were able to escape, but that several neighborhoods and two bridges had been completely destroyed.

Photos posted on Twitter by the air force show neighbourhoods filled with mud and damaged houses. Videos posted on social media show residents frantically searching for survivors in impossible conditions, with family members, neighbours and friends struggling to search through waist-high water.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2017-04-01

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