Colombia landslide: More than 200 dead after rivers burst their banks and flood homes

Patrick Grafton-Green

More than 200 people have died after an avalanche of water from overflowing rivers swept through a city in Colombia killing people while they slept, officials said.

At least 206 people have died, 220 are missing and another 202 injured, according to the Red Cross, after a river to burst its banks, flooding homes with mud.

The incident was caused by heavy rains around midnight on Saturday in Mocoa, a city of about 350,000 located near Colombia's border with Ecuador, tucked between mountains and at the crux of two rivers.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who travelled to the area, declared a state of emergency in the region.

An aerial view shows a flooded area after heavy rains caused rivers to overflow (REUTERS)

Muddy water and debris quickly surged the city's streets, toppling homes, ripping trees from their roots, lifting cars and lorries and carrying them downstream.

With most of the community asleep when the water avalanche began, many residents did not have enough time to climb on top of their roofs or seek safety on higher ground.

President Santos said troops had been deployed as part of a national emergency response.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos gestures while visiting a flooded area (REUTERS)

"My heart and the hearts of all Colombians are with the victims of this tragedy", he told reporters.

The region's governor, Sorrel Aroca, told Colombian media that whole neighbourhoods had been buried, while bridges have also been swept away.

A man looks at a destroyed area after heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow (REUTERS)

Witnesses described feeling buildings vibrate as the flood began. Although an alarm reportedly went off, it could not be heard throughout the city, survivors said.

"There are many people looking for their relatives," said Oscar Forero, a spokesman with the Colombian Red Cross.

The Red Cross planned to set up a special unit in Mocoa on Saturday afternoon to help relatives search for their relatives.

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