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Colombia landslide: Rescue teams race to reach survivors

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Rescuers are digging through mud and debris in the hunt for those missing after devastating mudslides in Colombia left more than 200 dead.

More than 1,000 soldiers and police are involved in the relief effort in Putumayo province.

Heavy rain flooded the town of Mocoa in the country’s south-west, with mud and rocks burying whole neighbourhoods and forcing residents to flee their homes.

President Juan Manuel Santos said that 44 of the identified dead are children.

“Until we have the last person identified we are not going to stop,” said President Santos, who flew to the area on Saturday after the landslide struck.

There were at least 400 people injured and 200 missing, the army said.

Media caption President Juan Manuel Santos has declared a state of emergency

Video footage from Mocoa showed residents crying over a list of missing children, with their names and aged pinned to a board.

“We have lost a baby, who has gone missing,” one resident told reporters. “A little baby, we can’t find him anywhere.”

  • ‘The river has got us, help us please’

The exact death toll is hard to confirm with the rescue operation still under way.

Some local media estimate up to 300 people have been killed, while the Colombian Red Cross has a total hovering above 200.

The Red Cross said it was working to help family members contact each other, and the Colombian Air Force has brought supplies.

Lorries and trucks were thrown into the side of buildings by the force of the water

The landslide struck in the early hours of Saturday morning, when many people were asleep in bed.

Colombia’s director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit said that a third of the region’s expected monthly rain fell during one night.

Although rainfall is abundant in the area, this downpour was unusually heavy and caused rivers to burst their banks.

The overflow then picked up mud and debris, creating a cascade.

Video footage of the aftermath showed currents so strong that abandoned lorries were propelled through the flooded streets.

Media captionDimitri O’Donnell: “The biggest hurdle… is trying to get access to Mocoa”

A senior UN official in Colombia, Martin Santiago, blamed climate change, saying it had caused “tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency and magnitude of these natural effects” in the region.

Others said deforestation has also played a role. “When the basins are deforested, they break down. It is as if we remove the protection for avoiding landslides,” said Adriana Soto, a Colombian conservationist and former environment minister.

Soldiers have been deployed to help local families

With no running water in Mocoa, one resident told El Tiempo newspaper that they had been collecting rainwater. Power lines are also out across the area.

Photos posted to social media by the air force showed some patients being evacuated by air.

Rescuers seek people among the rubble left by mudslides following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo department, southern Colombia on April 1, 2017.

Local resident Mario Usale, 42, told Reuters he was searching for his father-in-law.

“My mother-in-law was also missing, but we found her alive 2km (1.25 miles) away. She has head injuries, but she was conscious,” he said.

A family wait outside their home damaged by mudslides following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo department, southern Colombia on April 1, 2017

Landslides have struck the region several times in recent months.

In November, nine people died in the town of El Tambo, about 140km (90 miles) from Mocoa, during a landslide that followed heavy rain.

Less than a month before that, another landslide killed several people near Medellin, almost 500km (300 miles) to the north.

And in neighbouring Peru, more than 90 people have died since the start of the year because of unusually heavy rainfall, which also caused landslides and flash floods.

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