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Colombia Mudslide Disaster Update: Hundreds Remain Missing as Relief Efforts Continue

( [email protected] ) Apr 03, 2017 04:38 PM EDT
Hundreds remain missing in Mocoa, Colombia after a massive mudslide devastated the area, destroying buildings, sweeping away homes and claiming at least 254 dead - 43 of them children.
A man attempting to clean up after mudslides n Mocoa.
Luis Robayo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hundreds remain missing in Mocoa, Colombia after a massive mudslide devastated the area, destroying buildings, sweeping away homes and claiming at least 254 dead - 43 of them children.

Over the weekend, heavy rains in the provincial capital in the southern mountains of the country caused three nearby rivers to rise, generating a flood that leveled entire neighborhoods. Just two days later, hundreds of people remain missing while the body count continues to rise.

Carlos Ivan Marquez, the director of the national disaster agency, said a crisis group, including military units, police and rescue teams, continue to actively search for the missing people.

"We have a huge challenge to find the missing people," he said.

In an address, President Juan Manuel Santos said that so far, 170 victims had been identified; 43 children were among the dead and 22 more had been hospitalized. A further 203 people were injured, many severely.

"To all [victims], we send our prayers. We send our condolences to their families, condolences from the entire country," Santos said, according to CNN.

The president, who traveled to Mocoa on Saturday to oversee relief operations, said that 30 percent of monthly rain fell in just one night. He promised a full reconstruction of the city and said four emergency water treatment plants would be set up "to avoid an epidemic and an even bigger public health crisis."

"The idea is that Mocoa will be better than it was," he said.

Devastating videos uploaded to social media showed collapsed buildings, piles of rubble and stone, and cars submerged in muddy water. Other photos showed rescue workers pulling bodies out from under wooden planks and uprooted trees.

"The avalanche startled me when I was sleeping, and I went out to the street," Carolina Garreta, a firefighter, told the New York Times. "People were running and yelling the names of  family members. Others were screaming at God."

Garreta said that night she had found a 5-year-old boy clinging to a washing machine that had been carried away by the waters.

"He told me that his mother and father were still in the home," she said. "But where he pointed to, there was nothing."

Jose Estrella, a resident of Mocoa, told the Times that the morgue, overloaded with the dead, was understaffed and "filled with the smell of the dead" who included his sister and two nephews.

"Now the bodies are decomposing because they are in open air," he said.

The mudslide also left the city without electricity, clean water or gasoline. Hundreds of residents remain huddled in shelters.

"There's not a single drop of drinkable water - we need water, that's what's urgent - and there's nothing to eat," Marisol González, the head of a nearby technological institute, told the newspaper El Tiempo.

Tags : Colombia mud slide disaster update, columbia, Mocoa, mudslide