Colombia Mudslide Death Toll Rises To 254, Several Still Missing

Flooding and mudslides in the Colombian city of Mocoa sent torrents of water and debris crashing onto houses in the early hours of Saturday morning, killing 254 people, injuring hundreds and sending terrified residents, some in their pajamas, scrambling to evacuate.

Heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks onto buildings and roads in the capital of southwestern Putumayo province and immobilising cars in several feet of mud.

Volunteers and firefighters tended to 82 bodies downstream in the town of Villagarzon and said many corpses were still caught in debris.

"It was torrential rainstorm, it got really strong between 11 pm and 1 am," said local resident Mario Usale, 42, who was looking for his father-in-law in the debris.

Mario Usale My mother-in-law was also missing, but we found her alive two kilometers away. She has head injuries, but she was conscious.

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

The army said in a statement that 254 people were killed, 400 people had been injured and 200 were missing. More than 1,100 soldiers and police officers were called in to help dig people out in 17 affected neighborhoods.

President Juan Manuel Santos made a second visit to the area on Sunday. He said water and energy services would be restored as soon as possible.

Santos blamed climate change for the disaster, saying Mocoa had received one-third of its usual monthly rain in just one night, causing the rivers to burst their banks.

Disaster officials said more than 500 people were staying in emergency housing and social services had helped 10 lost children find their parents. The disaster came after deadly flooding in Peru killed more than 100 people and destroyed infrastructure.

Families of the dead will receive about $6,400 in aid and the government will cover hospital and funeral costs.

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction combine to make landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster was daunting compared to recent tragedies, including a 2015 landslide that killed nearly 100 people.

Colombia's deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, killed more than 20,000 people.

Santos urged Colombians to take precautions against flooding and continued rains.

The president also thanked China and the Inter-American Development Bank for donating $1 million and $200,000 respectively toward relief efforts.

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