By MASON STEHLE
Torrential rains provoked flash flooding and a landslide in the Colombian city of Mocoa, home to nearly 40,000 residents, early in the morning on Saturday, April 21st. Mocoa’s three tributaries were overwhelmed by the rains, leaving the city at the mercy of the elements.
The majority of the city’s residents were sleeping during the slide, and were caught unprepared by the deluge of water, debris, and mud, reported The New York Times. Most adversely affected were the neighborhoods located along Mocoa’s three tributaries, which were “basically erased,” according to José Antonio Castro, the city’s mayor.
The slide caused not only the loss of human lives, but also catastrophic damage to essential infrastructure such as hospitals, roads, water systems, and energy services. In a statement, Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, declared an “economic, social, and ecological emergency.” According to the New York Times, a hospital worker said doctors were struggling to treat the wounded, with blood and medical supplies running low.
As of Monday, April 3, the city of Mocoa was still in crisis. Families continue to search, but their motives have changed to a search for bodies, not survivors. In a statement gathered by The New York Times, Jose Estrella, a man searching for his sister and two nephews, said that “the bodies are decomposing because they are in open air,” and that Mocoa “was filled with the smell of the dead.”
The situation, however, is not hopeless. Government and humanitarian agencies are quickly responding to the area, aiding families in their efforts to find their loved ones amongst the destruction. Inhabitants are being sustained with humanitarian assistance, according to BBC, with at least 40 tons of emergency supplies on its way to Mocoa, including 2,000 food kits and 1,000 tents. President Santos has been criticized by the Colombian media, who say he should have done more to preempt the disaster, reports BBC. In response, President Santos has promised not only to rebuild Mocoa, but to invest in its development and “make it better than it was before.”
The landslide has left the city even more susceptible to natural disaster, and Colombian citizens can only hope that President Santos delivers on his commitment.