A devastating flood in Colombia killed more than 200 people on Sunday. Torrential rains caused the three rivers surrounding the southern Colombian city of Mocoa to rise, flooding the town with mud, rocks, tree limbs, and other debris. The city of 40,000 was left reeling as citizens searched for missing loved ones. The floods demolished homes, ripping trees by the roots, and washing vehicles away.
Colombia is on the northwestern coast of South America. It shares a border with Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. The population of Colombia is nearly 50 million people with Spanish as the official language. Spanish colonists came to the country in 1499 and ruled until Colombia won its independence in 1819.
It is considered one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world with a rich cultural heritage. The city of Mocoa is a municipality and the capital city of Putumayo, one of the provinces of Colombia. Mocoa is in the northwest of Putumayo and borders two other areas, Nariño and Cauca. With the three rivers surrounding Mocoa, the city sits in a natural basin that was created by the surrounding mountains. Because of deforestation, the area has been prone to flooding.
According to The Washington Post, search-and-rescue teams searched through the debris looking for survivors. Gilma Diaz, speaking to The Washington Post said, “People went to their houses and found nothing but the floor.” The president, Juan Manuel Santos, visited the city and declared it a disaster area. He said the death toll could rise even more because of injuries and the discovery of more victims. Of the 200 dead, he said 170 of them had been identified. The hardest hit were young people with children. The flooding occurred at night when most kids were already in bed asleep with no idea of the danger coming their way.
The flooding and debris knocked the electricity and the “fresh water network” to half of the province of Putumayo making the search for survivors more difficult. The lack of fresh and clean water, officials fear will create unsanitary conditions further harming the citizens of the city and province.
Carlos Ivan Marquez, a representative of Colombia’s disaster agency, said the flooding caught “unsuspecting residents off guard in the early Saturday hours,” The Weather Channel reported. The hospital in Mocoa collapsed in the flooding forcing officials to transport people to nearby towns. The country’s Air Force airlifted 19 patients to another city and will take another 20 soon.
Nestor Humberto Martinez, Colombia’s attorney general, announced that his office sent “45 criminal investigators to Mocoa to help identify victims,” according to The Weather Channel. USA Today reported that Mocoa’s mayor, Jose Antonio Castro saw houses wiped out in the flood but many of those in houses were warned. The search for survivors and bodies continue.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy Twitter