By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
At least 250 people are known dead in Colombia, after three overflowing rivers inundated the small southern town of Mocoa over the weekend. Rescue officials say they expect the death toll to rise as they continue rescue and recovery efforts.
Reuters reported that volunteers and firefighters found 82 bodies downstream in the town of Villagarzon. They said many corpses are still caught in debris.
“We had to recover them ourselves. We think we’ll find more,” Villagarzon Mayor Jhon Ever Calderon told Reuters. He said the town has no coffins or sanitary storage.
The deluge smashed houses, tore trees out by the roots, and washed away cars and trucks, according to the Associated Press.
At least 43 children were among the confirmed dead, according to President Juan Manuel Santos. Most of the children were asleep when floodwaters surged through the city of 40,000 residents near the border with Ecuador.
“Unfortunately, these are still preliminary figures,” Santos tweeted, according to the Voice of America. The president went to Mocoa Sunday to supervise relief operations. “We offer our prayers for all of them. We send our condolences and the entire country’s sympathies to their families,” Santos wrote.
Santos also thanked China and the Inter-American Development Bank for donating $1 million and $200,000 respectively toward relief efforts.
Many Injured or Missing in Colombia
The flood was one of the worst natural disasters to strike Colombia in years. Many people are injured or remain unaccounted for. First responders are still pulling bodies from the thick mud, tree limbs, boulders and debris that covered much of the city on Monday.
One rescue worker emerged from a search area with the body of an infant wrapped in a towel. Not far away, Abelardo Solarte, a 48-year-old resident of Mocoa, held a child’s shoe as he helped clear debris. “You have no idea how many kids there are around here,” Solarte told the AP.
Mocoa is vulnerable to flooding because the town lies close to three rivers in a natural basin created by the surrounding mountains. The danger has been exacerbated in recent years by large-scale deforestation, which eliminates some protection from runoff. Also, many people built their homes close to the rivers to be near a water source.
But the triggering event was more than five inches of rainfall that began late Friday and lasted well into Saturday, the AP explained.
“The rain fell on Mocoa with an intensity and force that was without precedent and devastating,” President Santos said. “It rained in two hours what falls in a month in Bogota.” He said the government will launch a health and vaccination campaign in the town to prevent an outbreak of disease.
Officials in Colombia have promised aid to help rebuild homes. The attorney general promptly launched an investigation into whether local and national authorities responded adequately to the disaster.
About the Author
David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. David’s 2015 book, “The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever,” has just been published in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.