Flooding and mudslides in the Colombian city of Mocoa sent torrents of water and debris crashing onto houses in the early hours of Saturday morning, killing 254 people, injuring hundreds and sending terrified residents, some in their pajamas, scrambling to evacuate.
Heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks onto buildings and roads in the capital of southwestern Putumayo province and immobilizing cars in several feet of mud.
“It was torrential rainstorm, it got really strong between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.,” said local resident Mario Usale, 42, who was looking for his father-in-law in the debris.
“My mother-in-law was also missing, but we found her alive two kilometers away. She has head injuries, but she was conscious.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos flew to Mocoa, population 345,000, to oversee rescue efforts on the city outskirts and speak with affected families.
“We will do everything possible to help them,” Santos said after confirming the death toll. “It breaks my heart.”
The army said in a statement that 254 people were killed, 400 people had been injured and 200 were missing. More than 1,100 soldiers and police officers were called in to help dig people out in 17 affected neighborhoods.