Over the last month Colombia has experienced weeks of heavy rains, which have caused landslides and widespread flooding. According to the Red Cross, 176 people have died so far this year and thousands have had to evacuate their homes. Over 200,000 houses are believed to have been damaged or destroyed and more than two million people affected.
In the latest incident, a landslide hit homes in the La Gabriela district of Bello, north of the city of Medellin. Rescue workers with dogs have succeeded in rescuing 7 people and emergency teams with specialist equipment are searching for other survivors. At least 50 people are officially missing but the number could be much higher, because the disaster happened on a Sunday when Colombian families congregate together for a meal. Ten buildings, each with three stories, were swallowed by the landslide and the Red Cross therefore believes as many as 200 people could have been buried.
The emergency services in Colombia are struggling to cope with the scale of the disaster. Flooding has been particularly severe along the Pacific coast, where swathes of land have been submerged for weeks. But towns and villages across central and northern Colombia have also been badly hit. Rivers have burst their banks and gushing water has damaged buildings and roads. Fields have also been swamped and the coffee crop is likely to be affected.
The Colombian government has made 160 million dollars available for families who have been affected by the floods and the Colombian Red Cross plans to deliver over 230 tonnes of relief supplies. The country is “on high alert” and if the heavy rains continue, the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, may call a national state of emergency. Mr Santos has declared there is “no precedent in our history” for the scale of what is happening, a “tragedy [which] has just kept growing”.
The rainy season (May-November) has been especially severe due to the La Niña, the ocean-atmosphere phenomenon which is a counterpart to El Niño (and sometimes called the anti- El Niño). La Niña brings lower sea surface temperatures and is often preceded by a strong El Niño. This year, heavier-than-usual rains have been experienced in Mexico, Central America and across the northern part of South America. In neighbouring Venezuela, a state of emergency has been declared in four states due to flooding, which has killed 30 people and caused 70,000 to flee their homes. Worryingly, forecasters predict the heavy rains in the region could continue into next year, so officials and aid workers are bracing themselves for more misery to come.