Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Desperation sets in as flood death toll in Colombia tops 200

Published:Monday | April 3, 2017 | 4:00 AM
Firefighters and rescuers cover with a blanket the body of a woman in Mocoa, Colombia, yesterday. Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, who has declared Mocoa a disaster area, said that at least 207 were killed in a weekend mudslide 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.

MOCOA, Colombia (AP):

Townspeople desperately searched their ruined homes and the local hospital for loved ones yesterday after a torrent of water, mud and debris swept through a city in southern Colombia, causing more than 200 deaths, many of them children, and leaving hundreds more missing and injured.

Neighbourhoods were left strewn with rocks, wooden planks, tree limbs and brown muck after heavy rain caused the three rivers that surround Mocoa to rise and surge through the city of 40,000 Friday night and early Saturday as people slept. The deluge smashed houses, tore trees out by the roots and washed cars and trucks away.

Search-and-rescue teams combed through the debris and helped people who had been desperately clawing at huge mounds of mud by hand. Many had little left to search.

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

 

DISASTER ZONE

 

President Juan Manuel Santos, who visited Mocoa for a second straight day yesterday, declared the area a disaster zone and said the death toll stood at 210. But that could still rise because authorities said there were more than 200 injured, some in critical condition, and people were continuing to locate remains in the debris. The president said on Twitter that 170 of the dead had been identified.

Dozens stood in the door of a hospital, hoping for news of family members who were not on the list of those confirmed dead or injured. Others frantically knocked on relatives' doors hoping to find someone with information about their loved ones.

The disaster seemed to hit young people particularly hard. Santos said more than 40 of the dead identified so far were under 18, perhaps because youngsters were already in bed when the floodwaters struck.