Latin America & Caribbean

Colombian landslide victims' desperate calls for help

A woman is rescued from the landslide by a Colombian soldier Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Colombian Army was deployed to help victims escape

"We are begging for help, the river has got us, help us please."

This was the desperate message in just one of the many phone calls made to emergency services in the Colombian province of Putumayo on Sunday night as landslides rushed into neighbourhoods and began to sweep homes away.

Another resident made a call from the roof of her home as the water levels rose around her.

Barely able to catch her breath, she cried: "Please help us, the water has entered my house. It's taken all the gear, the car. Please help us."

She called on "the emergency services, the mayor, everyone" to help her neighbourhood of La Esmeralda, in the provincial capital, Mocoa.

Pleas were also made for helicopters to be sent.

Mocoa, a town of around 40,000 inhabitants in the country's south-west, has been devastated by floods and mudslides that came without warning.

They were sparked by a night of extremely heavy rain, which raised the water levels of the Mocoa River and three tributaries.

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Media captionThe landslide struck in the middle of the night

Many residents were asleep in their beds when the disaster struck, leaving them little or no time to get to safety.

Don Evaristo Garces, a local that managed to get away, told the Semana news site that he and his family escaped because they live on a hill, away from the water's reach.

He said the next morning they went out to look for their friends, and were greeted by a "stampede" of residents running towards the mountain.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Soldiers have had to dig people out from the mud and debris

Another resident of Mocoa, Orlando Davila, told Semana he saw parents crying because they could not find their children, and feared they had been swept away by the currents.

Rescue services have been working to reach the injured and remove mountains of debris, but bad weather has hampered their efforts.

Fallen bridges and flooded roads have also slowed them down.

Many residents are still missing.

Image copyright AFP / Getty Images
Image caption President Juan Manuel Santos (right) met distressed residents

"There are lots of people in the streets, lots of people displaced, and many houses have collapsed," retired Mocoa resident Hernando Rodriguez told AFP news agency.

"People do not know what to do," he said. "We are just scarcely realising what has happened to us."

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