Columbian river overflows, killing scores, leveling homes

By CHRISTINE ARMARIO

Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia — An avalanche of water from an overflowing river swept through a city in Colombia while people slept, the wave quickly destroying homes and killing at least 127 unsuspecting residents, authorities said Saturday.

The incident triggered by intense rains happened around midnight in Mocoa, a city of about 350,000 located near Colombia’s border with Ecuador, tucked between mountains and at the crux of two rivers.

Muddy water and debris quickly surged the city’s streets, toppling homes, ripping trees from their roots, lifting cars and trucks and carrying them downstream. With most of the community deep in slumber when the water avalanche began, many residents did not have enough time to climb on top of their roofs or seek safety on higher ground.

Herman Granados, a surgeon at the local hospital, said he believed there are likely more than 300 people injured and that doctors were quickly running out of blood. He suspected the death toll would rise.

“Under the mud, I am sure there are many more,” he said Saturday after working throughout the night on patients.

President Juan Manuel Santos was traveling to the region and called on the military and disaster authorities to respond to the disaster.

“Our prayers are with the victims,” he said in a statement.

Witnesses described feeling buildings vibrate as the flood began. Although an alarm reportedly went off, it could not be heard throughout the city, survivors said. Videos that some residents posted online showed vast areas filled with wood planks and debris. People could be heard calling out the names of missing loved ones.

“There are many people looking for their relatives,” said Oscar Forero, a spokesman with the Colombian Red Cross.

The Red Cross planned to set up a special unit in Mocoa Saturday afternoon to help relatives search for their relatives.