The Latest: Death toll rises to 193 in Colombia disaster


BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The Latest on the deadly river overflow in southern Colombia (all times local):

8 p.m.

The number of people killed in Colombia after a surge of mud and water from three overflowing rivers swept through a small city has risen to 193.

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos announced the rising death toll early Saturday evening as rescuers continued to search for the missing.

A torrent of debris surged through the city of Macoa near Colombia’s southern border with Ecuador around midnight, catching many residents off guard asleep in their homes and leaving little time to escape.

Many of the city’s streets were left an unrecognizable plane of rocks, wooden planks and mud.

5:20 p.m

A man who escaped with his wife and 7-month-old baby after a river overflowed, killing scores of people in southern Colombia, says there was hardly any time to flee before the water came rushing in.

Eduardo Vargas was awoken by the sound of neighbors banging on his door and quickly fled with his family amid the sound of people crying in panic. They climbed up a small mountain to safety before their home ws destroyed.

Returning to the site Saturday, he said there is, “Nothing left. But thank God we have our lives.”

At least 154 people were killed and the death toll is expected to climb as rescuers to continue to search for survivors. According to the Red Cross, 400 people were injured and 220 are believed missing.

3:10 p.m.

                The tragedy that killed scores of people in a water avalanche in Colombia seems to have put to rest at least for the moment the bad blood that has existed between President Juan Manuel Santos and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro.

                Maduro on Saturday offered to send rescuers and other disaster relief experts to help Colombia dig out from the mudslide that has killed at least 154 people. Maduro made an apparent allusion to Santo’s declarations on Friday questioning the state of Venezuela’s democracy. He said: “We’re brotherly people, who are there to be together and show respect for one another in trying times.”

                The scenes of desperation in Colombia resonate with supporters of Maduro’s socialist government. They remember how the late Hugo Chavez within months of taking office in 1999 had to confront the nation’s worst-ever natural disaster, in which thousands of people perished in deadly mudslides near the capital.

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2:40 p.m.

President Juan Manuel Santos says the death toll from an avalanche of water near Colombia’s border with Ecuador has now reached 154 and is likely to rise further.

But he cautioned against speculating about how many people will remain missing.

Santos spoke to reporters in Mocoa on Saturday after a meeting with civil defense officials. He said that the avalanche knocked out power in half of the province of Putumayo, where Mocoa is located. It also wiped out Mocoa’s fresh water network, for which 20 water tankers are on their way from other cities.

He said among the 200 people injured, 22 suffered serious injuries for which they are being airlifted to nearby cities.

He blamed climate change for triggering the avalanche, saying that the previous night’s rain was almost half the amount Mocoa normally receives in the entire month of March. With the rainy season in much of Colombia just beginning, he said local and national authorities need to redouble their efforts to prevent a similar tragedy.

Santos says: “These rains are increasingly more intense, so we have to be ready.”

The president says that instead of sending supplies Colombians should send donations so that families displaced by the tragedy can rebuild.

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1:30 p.m.

The Red Cross reports that 127 people are dead, 220 missing and 400 injured when a water avalanche surged through a small city in Colombia.

A state of emergency has been declared in Mocoa, located along Colombia’s southern border with Ecuador.

Minister of Interior Juan Manuel Cristo says in the middle of the night “families, boys, girls, young people, the elderly” were killed when three rivers overflowed. 

The incident happened around midnight, as many residents were in their homes sleeping. Witnesses felt buildings vibrate before an avalanche of water carrying mud and debris swept through, toppling homes and lifting trucks downstream.

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1 p.m.

The president of Colombia has declared a state of emergency in a city along the Andean nation’s southern border where at least 112 people have been killed and hundreds are feared missing.

President Juan Manuel Santos said Saturday he was declaring the emergency to mobilize rescue operations in Mocoa.

Intense rains triggered an avalanche of mud and water as three rivers overflowed around midnight, catching unsuspecting residents off guard.

Rescuers are continuing the search for survivors but the death toll is expected to rise.

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11:50 a.m.

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos says at least 112 people have been killed after intense rains triggered an avalanche of mud and water from overflowing rivers that swept through a small city.

Santos arrived at the disaster zone Saturday, warning the death toll could rise as the search for survivors continues.

The incident happened around midnight in Mocoa, a city of 350,000 located near Colombia’s border with Ecuador.

A surgeon at the local hospital says he believes there are at least 300 people injured and that doctors are running out of blood.

Witnesses described feeling buildings vibrate and say there was little time to seek refuge, catching some victims off guard in their sleep.