Rescue teams scramble to find survivors after heavy rains in Putumayo province cause mud, rocks and gushing waters to engulf city of Mocoa

Colombian rescuers have been searching frantically for hundreds of missing people after the southern city of Mocoa was engulfed on Saturday by a huge landslide of mud, rocks and gushing waters that swept away homes and cars and killed more than 20 people.

The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, arrived in Mocoa on Sunday to survey the crisis. Officials from the national disaster agency had counted 210 dead by Sunday morning, with 62 children among the victims. The government later revised the death toll up to 254.. A further 203 people were injured, many in a critical condition.

A spokesman for the local power utility said it could take two weeks to restore energy in the area. Without power, gas or telephone service and with little clean water, about 600 survivors spent Sunday in makeshift shelters, on high alert for any further rainfall that could trigger another mudslide.

Lists of children who could not find their parents circulated on social media to try to reunite families, while about 1,100 soldiers and police arrived to help the relief effort.

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The disaster struck in the early hours of Saturday when the rushing waters of the Mocoa river and its tributaries converged on the capital of Putumayo province, catching many people by surprise as they slept.

As the waters rose, one woman identified as Laura Montoya called an emergency helpline from the roof of her house. “We are at risk of dying,” she said, according to an account from the president’s office. “The water has filled up half the house.”

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