Desperate search for survivors of Colombia's water avalanche

Sharon Marris, News Reporter

Rescuers are frantically searching for hundreds of victims after an avalanche of flood water engulfed parts of a city in Colombia.

At least 234 people were killed in Mocoa, near the country's border with Ecuador, after several rivers overflowed and sent mud and debris through the city .

Another 200 people are believed to have been injured, according to the National Disaster Agency.

Officials said the death and injury tolls could easily go higher, with many of the injured being children in a critical condition.

More than a dozen patients have been flown to hospitals further north and 20 more are due to be evacuated later on Sunday.

Bodies have been put in a temporary morgue and medical examiners are working around the clock to identify them.

There is little drinking water and no electricity but residents are still digging through debris and mud, hoping to find loved ones.

Oscar Londono was searching for his wife's parents who lived beside one of the flooded rivers.

During his search, he had found the body of a young woman killed in the disaster, saying "there were bodies all over" and that the neighbourhood was "just mud and rocks".

But eventually he found his relatives on the mountain with a group of other survivors.

"To know they were alive...It was a reunion of tears," he told Associated Press.

Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, travelled to Mocoa just hours after the disaster on Saturday and blamed climate change for triggering the avalanche.

Colombia's Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, said his office was investigating to make sure local and national authorities fulfilled their responsibilities when helping those affected by the disaster.

Mr Santos said the rainfall overnight on Friday/Saturday had been 130 millimetres, adding: "Usually in a month it rains here 400 millimetres.

"It means 30% of the rain of a month occurred last night and thus caused a sudden overflow of several rivers: the rivers of Mocoa, Mulato, Sangoyaco and those in surrounding cities, and that triggered an avalanche."

The rainy season in Colombia is just beginning and he warned authorities to be prepared for more tragedies like the one in the city of about 350,000 people.

Among the survivors was Eduardo Vargas, a 29-year-old husband and father of a seven-month baby, who said he was woken up by neighbours banging on his door.

He had gathered his small family and they had fled up the mountain to safety, where they waited with about two dozen other residents until daylight when the military helped them down.

While they waited, they watched the destruction in their city below - trees uprooted, cars picked up and carried downstream, houses destroyed and streets covered in thick mud.

Mr Vargas said their home was gone when they returned but added: "Thank God we have our lives."

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