Cascade of mud kills at least 64

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The Independent Online
Bogota - A wave of rocks and mud unleashed by an earthquake swept down a river valley in south-western Colombia, ripping away houses, killing at least 64 people and leaving up to 500 missing, police said yesterday.

Estimates of the final toll from the disaster, which hit the remote Paez river valley about 180 miles (300km) from Bogota on Monday evening, varied wildly because of the difficulties in reaching the area, but police in Bogota said they had confirmed reports of at least 64 dead.

The provincial governor, Julio Enrique Ortiz, said: 'This is a big tragedy. We can say that the Paez river has turned into a huge river of mud . . . houses have been destroyed.'

Witnesses said two villages in the valley, Toez and Irlanda, with a combined population of several hundred, had been swept away by the force of the wave. It was not immediately clear how many of the villagers might have escaped before it hit.

'We took the children but some people didn't manage to take them, they were lost, others tried to cross the river to warn families but the avalanche swept them away. It was terrible,' a survivor said.

The wall of rocks and mud destroyed the unpaved road linking the mainly Indian area to the outside world. Television pictures showed a huge mass of mud still moving slowly down the mountainous river valley.

Disaster prevention officials said the tragedy occurred after a strong earthquake, measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale, shook the area on Monday.

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