Latin America & Caribbean

Lightning kills 11 Colombian tribe members during ritual

Colombian rescue workers and troops with Wiwa indigenous survivors Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Tribe members said they were hit by a lightning storm which began around midnight

Eleven members of a Colombian indigenous community have been killed by lightning during a religious ceremony in a remote, mountainous area in the north of the country.

Leaders from the Wiwa ethnic group were carrying out what was described as a spiritual harmonisation ritual when they were struck.

Another 15 people were injured.

Survivors were rescued by the army and airlifted to hospitals in the Caribbean city of Santa Marta.

Most of the victims are being treated for second and third degree burns.

'Burnt temple'

The accident happened on Sunday night near the town of Guachaca, in Colombia's Sierra Nevada mountains.

Some 60 tribe members were gathering inside a thatched building used as a temple when it was hit by a lightning bolt, local media reported.

The building was burned to the ground.

"Our solidarity is with the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta indigenous community," President Juan Manuel Santos wrote on his Twitter account.

The Colombian indigenous agency (Onic) said it has been speaking to families to find ways of helping the community at this difficult time.

The Wiwa carries out "spiritual harmonisation rituals" when they are faced with internal disputes or environmental problems, Onic explained in a statement.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Four indigenous communities live in the Sierra Nevada area
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Wiwa tribe members were airlifted to health facilities in the city of Santa Marta

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