Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday declared a state of emergency in the southern city of Mocoa after mudslides killed at least 154 people while hundreds were reported missing.
While visiting the disaster area, Santos declared the state of emergency “to be able to attend this situation in the best way possible.”
According to newspaper El Espectador, some 2,500 soldiers are already in the city to help with the rescue work, together with the national disaster agency and the Red Cross.
We will begin the full process of humanitarian aid. We will — of course — attend the injured, we will begin the funeral process for all those people who passed away and we will begin reestablishing [public] services that were suspended.
President Juan Manuel Santos
The president, visibly distraught by the disaster, had traveled to Mocoa Saturday morning to personally oversee efforts to rescue survivors from the rubble caused by the simultaneous overflowing of three nearby rivers.
The flooding destroyed the local hospital and main road connecting the city to the rest of the country, meaning it can only be reached by air.
Local media reported that national authorities had sent 60 forensic investigators to Mocoa to identify the bodies of those who didn’t survive the violent flooding.
The Health Ministry also kicked off an emergency action plan to prevent decomposing bodies of victims from spreading diseases in the hot and humid area.
Authorities across Colombia have been on increased alert because this year’s first rainy season is combined with “La Niña,” a weather phenomenon bringing extra rain from the Pacific Ocean.
The Mocoa flooding is Colombia’s deadliest disaster in decades, in spite the fact that deadly floods or avalanches caused by tropical rains are common in the country.