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Search for missing paused in Colombia after landslide kills 15

Rescue teams with drones search for landslide survivors
Rescue teams with drones search for landslide survivors - Copyright AFP Daniel Munoz
Rescue teams with drones search for landslide survivors - Copyright AFP Daniel Munoz

Rescue teams temporarily suspended efforts to search for survivors Tuesday after a landslide triggered by heavy rains left at least 15 people dead and more than a dozen missing in central Colombia, authorities said.

Several homes were destroyed and a major trade artery blocked after torrential rains hit the Quetame municipality in Colombia’s Cundinamarca department late Monday.

“We have at this moment a count of 15 people who were found lifeless,” firefighting captain Alvaro Farfan said in a video sent to the media Tuesday night, adding that there were six people injured.

Farfan said nightfall had forced rescue teams to suspend their search for potential survivors but that they would resume in the morning. Thirteen people remained missing.

As the death toll and number of missing rose throughout the day, civil defense director Jorge Diaz told AFP earlier Tuesday that authorities were trying to find out how many residents lived in the 20 houses that were razed in the deluge.

Family members rushed to the scene looking for their loved ones.

Alejandro Bernal traveled from Bogotá to look for his grandmother, uncles, cousins and friends who lived in the disaster area.

“We want to help in some way, look for the bodies,” he told AFP. “Even if we cannot find them (alive), at least we will know about them and give them a holy burial.”

– ‘Very complex’ rescue operation –

Quetame mayor Camilo Parrado said some households “lost two, three, even four family members.”

Mud was piled a meter high, up to two meters in some places, Parrado told El Dorado Radio, making for a “very complex” search and rescue operation.

“Relief agencies with drones” were involved in the search, said the mayor. 

The army announced it was deploying about 80 soldiers to aid in the search effort.

Firefighters have evacuated dozens of survivors.

– Trucks trapped –

Diaz, the civil defense official, said the landslide buried part of a road linking Bogota to the southeast of the country — one of the country’s main freight routes.

It happened near a toll post some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the capital, and destroyed a bridge.

Large rocks and mud obstructed the road between Bogota and Villavicencio, an AFP reporter observed, with several trucks and motorcycles trapped.

On Twitter, President Gustavo Petro offered his condolences to victims’ families and said the disaster demonstrated the need to bolster infrastructure around at-risk areas.

The rainy season in Colombia started in June and usually lasts until November. 

Last year, seasonal flooding in the country left some 300 dead overall, including 34 people who died when an avalanche swallowed up a bus and other vehicles.

Colombia declared a national disaster in 2022 over the rains linked to an exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and causes flooding in some parts of the world.

Earlier this month, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization warned that extreme weather and climate shocks were becoming more acute in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Many recent events in the region were influenced by La Nina “but also bore the hallmark of human-induced climate change,” it said.

The UN agency cautioned that an El Nino event that has taken route in the aftermath of La Nina, will “bring with it more extreme weather.”

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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