Rescuers are sorting through mounds of debris and mud Sunday in search of missing people after a massive wall of water from three overflowing rivers in Colombia swept through the region overnight Friday, destroying homes and infrastructure, and killing more than 200 people.
Shortly after the banks of the rivers burst, a landslide devastated the southwestern town of Mocoa.
President Juan Manuel Santos visited the wrecked town of 40,000 near the border with Ecuador on Saturday and declared a state of public calamity.
Santos warned that the death toll is likely to rise, and added, “We don’t know how many victims there are going to be.”
To those affected by the disaster, he said, “We will do everything possible to help them. It breaks my heart.”
For their part, Red Cross officials said at least 203 people were injured in the deluge and an undetermined number of people were still missing.
Video from the scene showed flattened buildings, and mounds of crumpled cars and uprooted trees, as dazed residents surveyed the scene and rescuers pulled the injured and the dead from the wreckage.
The catastrophe came after days of torrential rains that has left large parts of the region without electrical power or running water. President Santos blamed the avalanche on climate change, saying the amount of rain that drenched the area in one night was nearly half the amount the area receives in the month of March.
Pope Francis addressed the tragedy Sunday at the Vatican, saying he was “profoundly saddened.”
In recent months, heavy rains and flooding have struck along the Pacific side of South America, killing scores of people in Peru and Ecuador.