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Colombia mudslides: Death toll soars to 250, rescue ops continue

Rescuers look for bodies in a destroyed area after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains in Mocoa, Colombia April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

New York: With over 100 people still missing in the wake of the deadly mudslides that tore through southern Colombia, rescuers are scrambling to reach the trapped people in time, with the death toll continuing to soar.

Hundreds are reported dead after torrential rains Friday night caused three rivers surrounding Mocoa, in Putumayo province, to overflow, resulting in a torrent of mud flooding through the city.

The Colombian military said at least 254 are dead and around 400 more injured, while the Red Cross reports 234 deaths and said that 158 people were missing. Federal officials have said that a police officer was among the victims, reports CNN.

Meanwhile, President Juan Manuel Santos has declared a state of emergency and put the death toll at 254, however, admitted that the number could climb.

“The first thing I want to say is that my heart, our hearts, the hearts of all Colombians are with the victims of this tragedy,” he said from the scene.

Santos said 43 children were among the dead, and 22 more were hospitalized. Several children have been reunited with their parents; many children are in shelters, he said.

“There are still many missing people. We don’t know where they are. That’s why the system is still trying to locate them and will continue to do so until we find the last person.”

Earlier Santos said, “Many people are coming to us saying, ‘My son is missing, my father is missing, my mother is missing.”

Authorities have identified about 170 of the dead, according to the president.

“Here we are facing a disaster caused by nature, by climate change,” Santos said earlier. He added that the region received nearly 500 millimeters of rain in March, which he said is about 80% more than the usual amount for the month.

More than 1,000 soldiers and national police officers are involved in the ongoing rescue effort, and they are facing enormous challenges.

“The difficulties we are facing are that it is still raining in the region and the (mudslide) turned up a considerable amount of land. There are mobility issues on almost 80% of the roads, and where the road ends, it is three hours to the place where the (mudslide) took place,” a police spokesman told reporters. (ANI)