BOGOTA-- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday declared a state of emergency in Mocoa, the capital of southwest Putumayo department, as a deadly mudslide has so far claimed 154 lives.
"Given the seriousness of the situation in Mocoa, Putumayo, I declare a public calamity to facilitate rescue operations and aid," Santos posted via Twitter.
Heavy rains caused three area rivers to overflow early Saturday -- namely the Mocoa, Sangoyaco and Mulatos rivers, according to Colombian daily El Tiempo -- unleashing what local media described as an "avalanche" of muddy water that washed away homes, bridges and vehicles.
The death toll is likely to rise as an estimated 200 residents remained missing in the town of 43,000 inhabitants, and another 200 to 400 people were injured in the disaster.
Some 17 city districts were affected by the torrent and Santos immediately traveled to and arrived at the city on Saturday to head recovery efforts, mobilized the army, police and air force to join the rescue operations.
One police officer, Deciderio Ospina, died while attempting to rescue a family that was calling for help, the police force said.
Images of the tragedy showed volunteers and army troops trying to sift through the slippery, muddy wreckage of buildings to rescue survivors or recover the bodies of victims.
Countries throughout Latin America, as well several European countries, expressed their solidarity with Colombia and offered aid.
Putumayo, in Colombia's Amazonian region, borders Ecuador and Peru. According to the state meteorological agency, March was Colombia's rainiest month since 2011.
Since December, more than 90 people have died in neighboring Peru as Peru has been lashed by torrential rains sparked by the so-called Coastal El Nino phenomenon caused by unusually high sea temperatures, which have brought heavy flooding and mudslide.
Source: Philippines News Agency