Colombian President Juan Santos has confirmed that more than 40 children are among those killed by devastating mudslides in Colombia’s southern city of Mocoa.
Torrential rains flooded Mocoa — a town surrounded by rivers and mountains — in the early hours of Saturday, with mud and rocks burying homes, sweeping away cars and killing at least 254 people.
Some 400 people were also injured and hundreds of others were still missing.
Santos, who visited the flood-hit area, made a television address on Sunday night and confirmed that at least 170 of the dead had been identified, including the 43 children.
He said 22 children had been hospitalized for injuries and several others had been reunited with their families. Many children were also in shelters, according to him.
The president declared a state of emergency and warned that the death toll would likely rise. “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.”
Rescuers, along with family members, were continuing to search desperately through the rubble for victims. More than 1,000 soldiers and police forces were involved in the relief effort, which continued throughout the weekend.
“We have lost a baby, who has gone missing,” one resident told reporters. “A little baby, we can’t find him anywhere.”
Another woman was desperately seeking her two daughters and one young granddaughter through mud-plastered rubble. “Whether they are dead or alive, I just want to see them.”
According to officials, more than 500 people were staying in emergency housing, and social services had helped 10 lost children find their parents.
Officials said the families of the dead would receive about 6,400 dollars in aid and the government would cover hospital and funeral costs.
Santos has blamed climate change for the disaster, saying Mocoa had received one-third of its usual monthly rain in just one night. The Colombian president has also said that a health and vaccination campaign would be launched in the city to prevent an outbreak of diseases.
Critics say the government should have done more to protect the area from such disasters.
Landslides have struck Colombia several times in recent months. Back in November last year, nine people were killed in the town of El Tambo, not far from Mocoa, during a landslide that followed heavy rain.