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Flooding, Landslides Kill More Than 260 in Colombia


A handout picture released by the Colombian Army press office shows people helping to carry a woman after mudslides following heavy rains, in Mocoa, Putumayo, on April 1, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / EJERCITO DE COLOMBIA)


Families and rescuers searched Sunday for victims of flooding and landslides in southern Colombia. The destruction has killed more than 260 people, Reuters reported. More than 40 children are among the dead, President Juan Manuel Santos has confirmed.

Many of the bodies are now breaking down, Reuters reported Monday. Bodies wrapped in white cloth lay on the floor of the morgue. Officials are attempting to bury them as soon as possible to avoid the spread of disease. The government will begin vaccination against infectious disease Monday.

In addition, hundreds have been injured, and entire neighborhoods have been devastated.

Water from a number of rivers flowed over land near Mocoa in the early hours Saturday. The flooding sent water, wet soil and debris crashing down streets and into houses as people slept.

Volunteers and emergency fire workers attended to 82 bodies in Villagarzon, the town where the river had carried the bodies. The workers said many dead bodies were still trapped in the debris.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos gestures while visiting a flooded area after heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads in Mocoa, Colombia, April 1, 2017.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos gestures while visiting a flooded area after heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads in Mocoa, Colombia, April 1, 2017.

Jhon Ever Calderon is the mayor of Villagarzon. He told Reuters that people have had to go find the bodies. What was worse, he explained, is that the town had no coffins or a clean place to put them.

Many families in Mocoa stayed awake through the night to search the debris, despite the lack of electricity, Reuters noted.

“I need to know where they are, if they are injured or where to find them,” Maria Lilla Tisoy cried. She was searching the debris for a 4-year-old granddaughter and two of her daughters, one who is pregnant.

“If they are dead, please God deliver them to me,” she said.

President Santos traveled to the town of Mocoa again Sunday to supervise operations.

“We will continue to search for survivors. And, the first thing I want to say is that my heart, our hearts and the hearts of all Colombians are with the victims of the tragedy,” he said.

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

Others said the cutting of forests in surrounding mountains mean few trees can prevent water from washing over the land.

People line up outside a cemetery to looking for their missing relatives in Mocoa, Colombia, Sunday, April 2, 2017.
People line up outside a cemetery to looking for their missing relatives in Mocoa, Colombia, Sunday, April 2, 2017.

Disaster officials said more than 500 people were staying in emergency housing. And, social services had helped 10 lost children find their parents.

The destruction came after days of extremely heavy rains. Large parts of the area are now without electrical power or running water.

Pope Francis spoke of the disaster Sunday at the Vatican, saying he was deeply saddened.

In Colombia, heavy rains, mountains, and informal construction make landslides common events. However, the intensity of the Mocoa disaster was alarming compared to incidents in recent years. In 2015, for example, a landslide killed nearly 100 people.

President Santos urged Colombians to take protective measures against the flooding and continuing rains.

He thanked China for donating $1 million in aid. He also thanked the Inter-American Development Bank for its $200,000 donation toward aid efforts. Santos also expressed appreciation to Germany and Belgium, which are also donating aid.

In recent months, heavy rains and flooding have hit the Pacific coast of South America hard. The floods have killed many people in Peru and Ecuador.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Reuters News Service and VOA News reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Words in This Story

landslide - n. a large mass of rocks and earth that suddenly and quickly moves down the side of a mountain or hill

morgue - n. a place where the bodies of dead people are kept until they are buried or cremated

debris - n. the pieces that are left after something has been destroyed

coffin - n. a box in which a dead person is buried

climate change - n. a change in global climate patterns caused by an increase in carbon dioxide resulting from the use of fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas

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