BOGOTA – At least 19 people have died after a landslide on Sunday wiped out several homes in southwestern Colombia following heavy rains that have been falling for days across much of the country.
The downpour caused a hillside in the village of Portachuelo to collapse early on Sunday morning, burying eight houses while the residents were sleeping and completely cutting off the Pan-American Highway, the main roadway in southwestern Colombia which connects the country to neighboring Ecuador.
The UNGRD risk and disaster management unit, Civil Defense, the Colombian army and firefighters – along with local residents – have begun working to remove the debris and rubble to locate any missing people, EFE confirmed.
Colombian President Ivan Duque, who has traveled to Cauca along with the ministers for housing and transport in a show of the state’s commitment to helping the area recover, has ordered UNGRD director Eduardo Jose Gonzalez to travel to Rosas to direct rescue operations personally.
“These are painful moments, but we are here,” Duque told reporters after arriving in the disaster area. “All of Colombia is here telling Rosas, Cauca that it has the support of the nation.”
“We are taking every available step we can to save lives and meet the victims. That is why we have come (with the housing and transport ministers), so that we can find quick solutions,” the president said.
He added said that heavy machinery was being dispatched to the area to clear the Pan-American Highway, along with humanitarian aid such as food and hygiene items for the people affected by the tragedy.
The landslide also injured five people, two of whom were taken to a medical clinic in Rosas “for acute stress” while the other three were being treated in clinics in Popayan, the capital of Cauca province.
An official with the Cauca advisory office for risk and disaster management told EFE that residents of Portachuelo had already been advised that a landslide could occur, but they had failed to heed the warnings.
In Rosas, authorities set up a unified command post where they are coordinating the operation to deal with the situation.
The April rains, which have caused significant problems in various parts of Colombia, intensified during Holy Week and at the weekend caused the Telembi River to overflow, flooding the town of Barbacoas, in neighboring Nariño province, bordering Ecuador.
Barbacoas Mayor Eder Escobar said that no fatalities had been reported, but he added that he was concerned because more than a dozen neighborhoods had been affected by flooding.
The rains have also caused emergencies in the capital city, Bogota, where on Saturday a landslide affected 58 families in one of the city’s southern shantytowns. Twenty-seven of those families were advised to evacuate and 12 others to leave their homes to prevent injury or worse.
The spring rains have also affected about 1,100 people in the northwestern province of Antioquia and in the town of San Luis on Friday a tourist was swept away by rising waters of the Dormilon River.
Colombian authorities have advised people not to take chances in areas experiencing rising waters and which are prone to landslides.