Mudslide devastates Colombian town

Thursday 21st Apr 2011 by theWeather Club

Colombia is struggling to deal with the results of torrential rains that have been sweeping the country causing widespread devastation. More than 200 families have been left homeless in the central Colombian town of Utica alone after a mudslide swept away their houses. Heavy rains sent torrents of water, mud and stones through the town's streets. Officials said one elderly woman died and two men are missing.

The town mayor Marcel Hernandez said 238 families had been left with nothing, while local officials said more than 80% of the town had been engulfed by the mudslide. Mercifully, the loss of life was minimal because locals were warned of the mudslide's approach. Residents told how they had been alerted to the approaching mudslide by the ringing of the church bells and many were able to flee their homes before the town was hit.

Meteorologists say five Colombian provinces have seen double the average rainfall for April, and that more rain is forecast for the area. Local fire-fighters who have been co-ordinating search and rescue efforts say more mudslides cannot be ruled out, not only during the present heavy rains but in future ones as well.

Last year 408 people died and more than 2.8 million people were displaced or effected by heavy rains and flooding across the country. In light of this  government officials in Cundinamarca – the province in which Utica is located – said they would have to decide over the next few days whether to rebuild where they are or move the whole town to safer, higher ground. Andres Gonzalez Diaz, governor of the province, said this is the worst catastrophe his government has faced. "We have hundreds of destroyed houses and important crops were swept away by the floods,” he said, “but fortunately we've been able to minimise the loss of human lives."

The heavy rains are not restricted to Cundinamarca. In central Tolima province officials have put the town of Honda on high alert as the level of the river Magdalena continues to rise. Colombia has been suffering from a particularly wet winter, which officials say has adversely affected almost three million people across the country.