Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia landslide: Dozens feared buried near Medellin

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Media captionThe hillside on the outskirts of Medellin collapsed after the heaviest rains in Colombia for decades

Rescuers say they have recovered 24 bodies following a landslide near the Colombian city of Medellin.

More than 100 people are still missing and feared dead after a hillside collapsed on Sunday, following the heaviest rains in the country for decades.

Local residents initially used their bare hands to dig into tonnes of mud that engulfed some 30 houses. Seven people have been saved so far.

Thousands of people have fled the area.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Medellin says many of the bodies being pulled from the mud are those of children who were playing in the streets when the landslide hit.

The scar of the collapsed hillside can be seen from miles away, he adds.

The landslide hit the La Gabriela district of Bello, Antioquia province, at about 1900 GMT on Sunday.

Officials originally feared that 145 people may have been buried.

But the mayor of Bello, Oscar Andres Perez, told Colombian radio 123 people had been trapped.

He said the hill had become increasingly saturated with water over the past few days and that there had been a "high risk of landslides".

Mr Perez said the authorities had warned residents of the danger.

Orfanely Madrigal, a Bello resident, told a local radio station she had been aware of the risk: "I foresaw this tragedy. I told my mother this was a high-risk area but nobody believed me."

"I've lost half my family - my mother, four brothers, nephews and my 13- and 10-year-old daughters," she said.

Several hundred people, including Red Cross rescue workers, soldiers and police, are digging through the deep mud in an effort to find survivors. More than 20 sniffer dogs have also been brought in.

However, teams are moving cautiously for fear that heavy machinery will crush homes buried in the mud.

Red Cross officials say that 174 people have died as a result of the heavy rains in Colombia, 225 have been injured and 19 are missing, without counting the victims of the Bello landslide.

Tens of thousands have been left homeless after most major rivers have burst their banks as a result of the heavy rain.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced he is flying to Bello to personally assess the situation there.

Mr Santos has said recovering from the torrential rains and the damage they have caused is going to be very expensive, and that he is considering calling a national state of emergency if the rains continue.

"Unfortunately, this tragedy has just kept growing," he said.

Extreme weather

Neighbouring Venezuela is also experiencing heavy flooding.

Some 70,000 people have been driven from their homes there.

President Hugo Chavez has said his government plans to seize private land to house some of those forced to abandon their homes.

The May-November rainy season in Mexico, Central America and the northern part of South America has been severe this year.

The extreme weather is attributed to the La Nina climatic phenomenon, which is caused by colder than usual water currents along the Pacific coast.

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