Rescuers prying through piles of rocks and wooden planks left by floodwaters from three rivers that surged through a Colombian city have vowed to resume their search at first light on Sunday as the death toll from one of the worst disasters in the country’s recent history exceeded 200.
The Colombian army said in a statement that 254 people were killed, 400 people had been injured and 200 were missing. More than 1100 soldiers and police officers were called in to help dig people out in 17 affected neighbourhoods.
With no electricity to light Mocoa, authorities were forced to suspend the search on Saturday night almost a day after heavy rains caused the rivers to overflow and send a wall of water through the city near the Ecuador border around midnight, sweeping away homes, cars and trees while residents slept in their beds.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos flew to Mocoa, declared the city a disaster zone and gave a lower death toll of 193 via Twitter.
The bodies were being placed in a temporary morgue where three teams of medical examiners were working around the clock to swiftly identify the remains.
“They are going to work 24 hours a day,” said Carlos Valdes, director of the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science, the agency leading the medical team working to identify the deceased.
Authorities and residents in the city tucked between mountains along Colombia’s southern border spent Saturday tending to victims, trying to find homes on streets reduced to masses of rubble and engaged in a desperate search to locate loved one who disappeared in the dark of night. Authorities expect the death toll to rise.
Herman Granados, an anesthesiologist, said he worked throughout the night on victims and that the hospital doesn’t have a blood bank large enough to deal with the number of patients and was quickly running out of its supply.
As rescuers shifted through debris, many residents in Mocoa were conducting their own searches for lost loved ones.