Hundreds dead and missing in Colombia mudslides

People in Mocoa continue to search through piles of rocks and wooden planks that have entombed homes.

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The streets of the capital of southwestern Putumayo province are covered in thick sand, mud and tree limbs from the rivers and rainforest that surround the city.

Along with those who have died, hundreds are still missing and a state of emergency has been announced in the region with over 1,000 soldiers and police officers helping look for people across 17 affected neighbourhoods.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos says authorities are doing all they can to rescue survivors.

“We don’t know how many deaths there are going to be. We will continue to search for survivors, but the first thing I want to say is that my heart, our hearts and the hearts of all Colombians are with the victims of this tragedy.”

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction of homes make mud and landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster remains daunting compared to recent tragedies.

There are lists of hundreds of people still missing.

Many are children.

Scouring the lists, this woman hopes to find her child.

“We have lost a baby he has gone missing, and the the rest as you can see have gone missing. A little baby we can’t find him anywhere.”

This woman also survived, but much of her family is lost.

“I am looking for my three daughters and my tiny grandaughter, they disappeared when it happened. And I have not been able to find them. I ask the whole world to help me, I need your help. Whether they are dead or alive I want to see them.”

A medical team is working to identify the dead, and the bodies of those found are being placed in a temporary morgue.

There’s little drinking water and local hosptials don’t have sufficient blood supplies to deal with the number of patients being admitted.

The director of United Nations Disaster Risk Management, Carlos Ivan Marquez, says the UN is working with the government to help those affected.

“The president will receive a report with information on each area, from the humanitarian area, on the number of dead, on health issues, infrastructure, energy, water and issues related to legal support. In addition to that, we will visit a shelter to see people’s condition, and we will also tour the area to look into the issue of transit.”

The country has a history of mud and landslides.

In 2015 a landslide killed nearly 80 people while the country’s deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, killed more than 20,000 people.