Colombia mudslide: At least 58 killed and dozens injured when flash flood and mudslide sweeps through town of Salgar

Survivors living close to the river were evacuated amid fears of a further mudslide while a rescue operation got underway

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The Independent US

At least 58 people have been killed and dozens injured after a flash flood and mudslide swept through the town of Salgar in Colombia.

Homes, bridges and other structures were were washed away into the Libordiana ravine as water, rocks and other debris devastated the town.

“It was rocks and tree trunks everywhere,” said survivor Diego Agudelo. “The river took out everything in its path.” he said.

Survivors living close to the river were evacuated amid fears of a further mudslide while a rescue operation got underway.

Jorge Quintero, a local resident, described to RCN TV how he was trapped between two raging currents that had taken with it two homes on either side of his own. He recounted: "When I felt my house shaking we got out, my family and I. When we got out, we were stuck in the middle of the landslide, it was coming from both sides and we were in the middle.

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At least 52 people were killed and dozens injured when the flash flood and mudslide swept through the town (EPA)

"I said to my wife `let's hold each and hope that God saves us. I know God gave us his hand because here we are, alive, still frightened, but alive."

President Juan Manuel Santos travelled to the town to oversee relief efforts and said several children lost their parents and the bodies of those killed needed to be transported to Medellin, about 60 miles away, to be identified.

As giant diggers were removing debris he vowed to rebuild the lost homes and provide shelter and assistance for the estimated 500 people affected by the calamity.

"Nobody can bring back the dead ... but we have to handle this disaster as best we can to move forward," Santos said.

Authorities said that 58 people were confirmed dead but that the number could rise. Dozens were injured and some were still unaccounted for.

Colombia's rugged topography, in a seismically active area at the northern edge of the Andes, combined with shoddy construction practices, has made the country one of Latin America's most disaster-prone. More than 150 disasters have struck the country over the past 40 years, claiming more than 32,000 lives and affecting more than 12 million people, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

 

Luz Maria Urrego, 74, said she escaped certain death because she had traveled to Medellin for the long holiday weekend. She said her brother was killed along with his children and grandchildren.

The flooding destroyed the town's aqueduct and even areas in less hazardous zones experienced flooding. As a cautionary measure, electricity and other public services were suspended after several utility poles were knocked down.

Authorities called on volunteers to send water, food supplies and blankets to cope with what they described as a humanitarian emergency.

The town of 18,000 lies amid one of Colombia's major coffee-growing regions. Former President Alvaro Uribe, who spent part of his childhood in Salgar, where his mother was born, travelled to the town to assist in relief efforts. "It's very painful what we've seen," he said.

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