Colossal Calamity: Colombia landslides death toll rises to 254; over 200 injured, 500 displaced

BOGOTÁ – There are no more people officially missing after mudslides in Colombia killed at least 254 and injured more than 200, the country’s president said Sunday.

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 more than 250 people, a quarter of them children, injuring hundreds and sending terrified residents, some in their pajamas, scrambling to evacuate.

The president flew to Mocoa, population 345,000, to oversee rescue efforts on the city outskirts and speak with affected families.

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

Santos said 170 victims had been identified. At least 43 children were among the victims, Colombia’s national disaster agency, NGRC, said.

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,” President Santos said in an address earlier.

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

Colombian authorities scrambled to deliver aid and return basic services like electricity and water to the wreckage of Mocoa, a city of 40,000 people devastated by floodwaters and landslides.

Some 1,300 search and rescue workers accompanied by trained dogs combed the area.

Photos posted on Twitter by the air force showed neighborhood streets filled with mud and damaged houses, while videos on social media showed residents searching for survivors in the debris and struggling to move through waist-high water during the night.

In a speech on Sunday, Santos said that heavy rain unleashed flooding and landslides of “unprecedented” force that swept away “whole neighborhoods” and destroyed the city’s main electric plant and water supply.

Officials said electricity has been partly restored to the ravaged city and 20 tons of aid supplies have arrived, but many residents struggled to get clean water, creating a potentially serious health hazard for the survivors.

Santos announced the “immediate” start to work on a new aqueduct to deliver potable water to the city.

More than 500 people remained displaced on Sunday evening. At least 200 people sustained injuries in the disaster, which affected at least 300 families, according to officials.

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction of homes combine to make mud and landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster was daunting compared to recent tragedies, like a 2015 landslide that killed nearly 80 people in Salgar, Antioquia. Colombia’s deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, left more than 20,000 dead.