193 killed, more than 200 missing after rivers overflow in Colombia

At least 193 people were killed when a torrent of mud and floodwater swept through a small Colombian city early Saturday morning, toppling homes, uprooting trees and sweeping away vehicles.

Unusually strong rains caused three nearby rivers to overflow, triggering what officials described as a sudden avalanche of water and mud that surged through Mocoa, a city of about 40,000 near Colombia's border with Ecuador.

Survivors told local journalists they woke up around midnight to screams and the feeling of buildings rattling. Those who were able sought refuge on rooftops or higher ground.

Videos taken shortly after the flood show city streets converted into murky waterways filled with floating debris. Some can be heard screaming the names of those missing.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least 400 people were injured and more than 200 were still missing Saturday as hundreds of rescue crews descended on the flood zone, pulling mud-caked victims from the collapsed homes.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who traveled to Mocoa to tour the damage, declared a state of emergency and warned that the death toll could rise.

“We’re still looking,” Santos said in a video posted to his Twitter account. “The hearts of all Colombians are with the victims.”

Santos said the government was working to restore power to about half the city’s residents who were without electricity, and said the federal government was trucking in clean water. With hundreds of homes destroyed, Santos said he was also creating a housing fund to shelter survivors.

Of particular concern, he said, were several rescued children whose parents appeared to have perished. Santos said at least 10 children were without family members.

Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo province, is surrounded by lush rainforest and is accustomed to wet weather. But extreme amounts of rain have fallen there in recent days.

Santos said the area received nearly 8 inches of rain Friday, about a third of the precipitation it usually receives in an entire month.

A man interviewed on Colombia’s RCN news channel, who did not give his name, said the rain and the landslides that followed had virtually erased parts of the city.

"Whole neighborhoods disappeared,” he said. “My family and I were able to get out, but there were hundreds of people trapped. It's a disgrace.”

Herman Granados, an anesthesiologist at the local hospital, told the Associated Press that he arrived early Saturday morning and worked throughout the night on victims. He said the hospital doesn't have a blood bank large enough to deal with the magnitude of the crisis and was quickly running out of supplies.

He said some of the hospital workers had come to help even while their own relatives remained missing.

"Under the mud," he said, "I am sure there are many more."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Twitter: @katelinthicum

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UPDATES:

6 p.m.: This article was updated to report the death toll had risen to 193.

3:40 p.m.: This article was updated with staff reporting and the death toll climbing to 154.

12:30 p.m.: This article was updated with the death toll climbing to 127 and with estimates of the number of injured and missing. It also adds details about the flood and a state of emergency declared by the president.

This article was originally published at 10:35 a.m.

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