Latin America & Caribbean

Colombian town searches for victims of deadly landslide

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Media captionAerial footage shows the extent of the mudslide damage

Rescue workers are searching for victims of a deadly landslide which tore through the Colombian town of Salgar on Monday.

Officials said at least 62 people were killed when heavy rains caused the river Liboriana to burst is banks, triggering the landslide.

The neighbourhood of Santa Margarita was almost entirely swept away.

Most of the houses were poorly built and located near the river, putting them at high risk, an official said.

'No prior warning'

The landslide occurred at 03:00 local time (08:00 GMT) on Monday when most of the residents were asleep.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The landslide tore through the area after a period of heavy rain
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Houses built near the banks of the river Liboriana were worst affected
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Residents began clearing the mud from inside their homes on Monday

There was no prior warning, Salgar environmental official Wilson Betancur said.

Heavy rain had begun falling the previous evening and caused flooding in the hills above the town, he explained.

Debris and mud rushed down the hillside, burying cars and sweeping away homes.

Resident Jorge Quintero described his ordeal when the landslide hit the village: "When I felt my house shaking we got out, my family and me. When we got out, we were stuck in the middle of the landslide, it was coming from both sides and we were in the middle.

"I said to my wife, let's hold each other and hope that God saves us and I know he gave us his hand because here we are, alive, still frightened, but still alive."

President Juan Manuel Santos travelled to the area on Monday.

He said the authorities did not know how many people were still missing.

The president declared a state of emergency and promised to rebuild the houses.

'Courage and fortitude'

"We cannot bring the dead back, which we regret deeply, and we will support the families [of the victims]," he said.

"But we have to move on from this tragedy, and look ahead with courage and fortitude."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption People living in at-risk homes were evacuated to nearby shelters
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Many families are still searching for loved ones who disappeared

Rescue work was suspended overnight but resumed on Tuesday morning.

More than half of the 62 bodies found so far have been sent to the provincial capital Medellin for identification.

Antioquia Governor Sergio Fajardo said he expected the number of dead to rise further.

He also alerted people living downstream from Salgar to be on the look out for bodies which may have been swept along by the currents.

About 1,000 people were evacuated to nearby shelters.

Local official Zulma Osorio spoke of a "tragedy of enormous proportions".

More rain is expected in the area in the next few days.

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