Extreme rains that led to the flooding of a confluence of three rivers in the province of Putomayo has resulted in a natural disaster for the Colombian people of the province’s capital, Mocoa, a city of nearly 350,000 people. Nearly 30% of monthly rain fell in just one night.
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.
"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."
After declaring a state of emergency in the region, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos flew to Mocoa 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 director of Colombia’s disaster agency, Carlos Iván Márquez, said that 400 rescuers were scouring the riversides for victims and survivors while helicopters searched from the air. “We have a huge challenge to find the missing,” he said.
Many of the residents of Mocoa were sleeping when the wave reached the town. Videos on social media showed vehicles being carried downstream by a rapidly moving current while houses were buried under mud. While the Red Cross has deployed employees to help in recovery processes, following the New York Times, a surgeon at a hospital in Mocoa said doctors were overwhelmed and blood supplies were running very low. President Santos is quoted as blaming the tragedy on climate change because such intense rains are not the norm.