Heavy rains leading to mudslides have devastated the Colombian town of Mocoa, killing at least 254 people, 43 of them children. What could be worse, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has acknowledged the possibility of rise in death toll.
Santos, who traveled to the southern town to personally oversee relief operations, warned the toll could keep climbing.
“Unfortunately, these are still preliminary figures,” he wrote on Twitter, adding, “We offer our prayers for all of them. We send our condolences and the entire country’s sympathies to their families.”
Survivors described gruesome scenes in the remote southern town, as rescuers kept up a bleak search for victims in the muck and debris.
“I went to look for my niece, but I couldn’t find her. I dug and dug and found what turned out to be a baby’s hand. It was horrible,” said one survivor stationed in a shelter set up for the newly homeless.
Rescuers worked in stifling heat under a cloudy sky in the remote Amazon town, the capital of Putumayo department.
The debris left by the mudslides was everywhere, reported the news agencies. Buried cars, uprooted trees, children’s toys and stray shoes sticking up out of the mud.
The torrent of mud, boulders and debris struck the town with little warning late Friday after days of heavy rains that caused three area rivers to flood. It swept away homes, bridges, vehicles and trees, leaving piles of wrecked timber.
Most of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the town of 40,000 are poor and populated with people uprooted during Colombia’s five-decade-long civil war.
Colombian president Santos has now declared an emergency to speed up the aid operation.
Pope Francis has expressed sympathies over the incident.
(With inputs from Agencies)