Desperate Search Continues For Survivors After Deadly Avalanche of Water Kills More Than 250

The search for survivors continues Monday in Motoa, Colombia, as authorities increase relief efforts in response to an avalanche of water that struck the city early Saturday, killing more than 250.

Many of the residents of the city that is home to 40,000 were asleep when days of heavy rain caused a trio of rivers to overflow with a sudden barrage of mud and debris that inundated homes, killing at least 254 people and injuring more than 200, reports the Associated Press.

At least 220 remain missing, and authorities expect the death toll to rise, according to the AP. The disaster prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to declare a state of emergency on Sunday.

Two days after the disaster, a desperate search continues for the missing. Forty-three children were among the confirmed dead, with many others still missing, including the infant grandson of resident Jose Albeiro Vargas.

Vargas has refused to give up the search and said he last saw his daughter and grandson, Jadir Estiven, the night of the avalanche.

“They were hit by the strongest avalanche,” Vargas told the AP.

He is among a throng of residents still searching for loved ones.

On Sunday, the Colombian government began air logistics operations Sunday to search for the missing, as well as to deliver medicine, food, drinking water and power plants to the city, reports local media outlet, El Mundo.

Some 1,300 search and rescue workers used trained dogs to canvass the area for survivors on Sunday, reports ABCNews.

Carlos Ivan Marquez of the nation’s disaster agency said the river flooded around midnight, “catching unsuspecting residents off guard in the early Saturday hours,” the AP reports.

The local hospital collapsed, forcing officials to transfer the wounded to nearby towns, according to El Mundo.

The Air Force lifted 19 patients to a city in the north and said 20 more would soon be evacuated, according to AP.

Colombian Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez announced Sunday that his office has sent out 45 criminal investigators to Mocoa to help identify victims, reports AP. The Institute of Legal Medicine also sent out 15 pathologists to help with identifying the dead and performing autopsies.

“Hundreds of families are missing,” Sorrel Aroca, the governor of Putumayo said in the aftermath, El Mundo reports.  Aroca said there were 17 neighborhoods affected by the mudslides, with structures destroyed and boulders “the size of a house” lying in the streets.

Witnesses spoke of the fear that came with the sudden barrage of water carrying mud and debris that shook buildings, wiped out homes and lifted trucks downstream.

Eduardo Vargas, his wife and 7-month-old baby were asleep when he was awoken by neighbors banging on his door. He quickly grabbed his family and they fled up a small mountain.

“There was no time for anything,” he told the AP.

With about two dozen other residents, Vargas and his family huddled together as rocks, trees and wooden planks tore through their neighborhood. They stayed there until daylight when members of the military helped them down.

There was nothing left behind when he reached the site of his home Saturday.

“Thank God we have our lives,” he said.

Authorities report the entire area is without power and two bridges have been swept away. Saturday night the search for those missing had to be suspended due to the lack of electricity.

Aroca declared a health emergency, noting that the city needs the help of the government for “medical personnel, rescuers, with stretchers and mats for the creation of temporary shelters,” as well as vehicles to help those injured.

Santos placed the blame on climate change for triggering the avalanche, stating that the amount of rainfall accumulated in one night was almost half the amount Mocoa normally receives in the entire month of March. With much of Colombia’s rainy season just beginning, he said authorities will need to redouble efforts to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.


By Weather

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