BOGOTA – The death toll from the avalanche of water and rocks that devastated the city of Mocoa, capital of the southern Colombian province of Putumayo, has risen to 193, according to the latest report by emergency management organizations disclosed on Saturday by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos.
“Unfortunately, the latest death toll from the Putumayo tragedy is 193 dead and 202 injured. Solidarity with their families,” Santos said on his Twitter account.
The latest casualty report, with an undetermined number of missing, was given by Santos, who visited the area of the disaster, a mound with large rocks dragged by three rivers to the very center of Mocoa, a city of about 45,000 inhabitants.
The tragedy was caused by a heavy downpour Friday night which caused the Mocoa River and its tributaries Sangoco and Mulatos to swell.
The tragedy surpasses the most recent natural disaster of Colombia, another avalanche which destroyed the village of Salgar, in the department of Antioquia, on May 18, 2015, killing at least 104 people.
According to the president, “there are many people missing” and a census is underway of people who have not been found, based on information that is provided by relatives.
Among the victims are at least 10 children who have not yet found their parents and are now under the care of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF), an official child protection agency.
The mayor of Mocoa, Jose Antonio Castro, who has not been able to return to the city after attending a meeting of municipalities in Cartagena de Indias, told reporters in Bogota that he is also among the victims as the avalanche destroyed his home, adding that his family is safe.
The magnitude of the catastrophe is exacerbated by the isolation of this area of Colombia, located in the Amazon region, on the border with Ecuador, which lacks sufficient access routes, since Mocoa can only be reached by air or by precarious roads which takes several hours.
The inhabitants of Mocoa, accustomed to coexist with the natural jungle and mighty rivers, were surprised last night by the unusual downpour which caused the three rivers to swell and turn into a flood of water, mud and stones, which took away everything found in their path.
Soldiers, policemen and other rescue personnel on Saturday are searching for victims among the rubble to which many houses were converted.
The president said that on Friday night nearly 45 percent of the usual monthly rainfall occurred and that volume of water “produced the avalanche.”
The flood went through 17 neighborhoods, of which the most affected were those of San Miguel, Progreso and Independencia, which are close to the course of the river Mocoa, General Adolfo Hernandez, the commander of the 27th Brigade of the Army told EFE on the phone.
The tragedy exhausted the capacity of the medical services of Mocoa.
“The Mocoa hospital collapsed early and is now attending to people in other places with the help of medical personnel which has come from other municipalities of Putumayo,” said the military chief.
The Ministry of Defense dispatched five Colombian Air Force (FAC) aircraft, four Army helicopters with medical personnel as part of a contingent of 1,120 members of the Armed Forces to assist the victims, including 150 members of the Battalion of Military Engineers.
According to Santos, the calamity declared in Mocoa will allow taking all necessary measures to help its inhabitants, such as sending tankers with drinking water and mobile power plants as the city is without electricity.