Colombia: 154 dead after rivers overflow, toppling homes

A torrent of water from three overflowing rivers swept through a small city in Colombia while people slept, destroying homes and killing at least 154 unsuspecting residents in their sleep, authorities said Saturday.

Mudslides have killed more than 150 people and left hundreds injured or missing in southern Colombia, according to officials.

The torrential rains triggered what the Colombian Army called an "avalanche" of muddy and debris strewn water from the Mocoa River and its tributaries.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos overflies a flooded area.

The Red Cross said that at least 220 were missing, and another 202 were injured.

A state of emergency has been declared in the city, and some 2,500 soldiers and law enforcement officials have been mobilized in search and rescue efforts.

Carlos Ivan Marquez, the director of the national disaster agency, told the AFP news agency that a crisis group, including military units, police and rescue teams, had been activated to search for the missing people, as well as begin removing hundreds of tons of debris.

Some 130 millimetres (5 inches) of rain fell Friday night, Santos said.

Herman Granados, an anesthesiologist, said he worked throughout the night on victims and that the hospital doesn't have a blood bank large enough to deal with the number of patients and was quickly running out of its supply.

And in neighbouring Peru, more than 90 people have died since the start of the year because of unusually heavy rainfall, which also caused landslides and flash floods. Santos said on Twitter that he was praying for the victims.

"These rains are increasingly more intense, so we have to be ready", Santos said, according to the Associated Press.

The mayor of Mocoa, Jose Antonio Castro, told local media that the town was "totally isolated", without electricity and water.

"There was no time for anything", he said. Almost 200 people were injured, the defence ministry said, and more than 1100 soldiers and police officers were called in to dig people out.

"Climate change is generating dynamics and we see the tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency and magnitude of these natural effects, as we have just seen in Mocoa", said Martin Santiago, UN chief for Colombia.

Less than a month before that, another landslide killed several people near Medellin, nearly 500km (310 miles) to the north.

  • Leroy Wright