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Deluge kills at least 190 in Colombia

Colombia

IN this handout photo released by the c National Army, soldiers carry a victim on a stretcher in Mocoa, Colombia Saturday after an avalanche of water from an overflowing river swept through the city as people slept. (Colombian Army photo via AP)

BOGOTA, Colombia – An avalanche of water from three overflowing rivers tore through a small city in Colombia while people slept, destroying homes, sweeping away cars, and killing at least 193 unsuspecting residents.

The incident triggered by a sudden, heavy rainstorm happened around midnight Friday and into early Saturday in Mocoa, a provincial capital of about 40,000 tucked between mountains near Colombia’s southern border with Ecuador.

Muddy water quickly surged through the city’s streets, toppling homes, ripping trees from their roots, and carrying a torrent of rocks and debris downstream. Many residents did not have enough time to flee.

According to the Red Cross, 202 people were injured and 220 believed missing. President Juan Manuel Santos declared a state of emergency and said the death toll will likely rise but warned against speculating about how many are dead. Late Saturday, he said the toll had reached 193.

“We don’t know how many there are going to be,” he said of the fatalities when he arrived at the disaster zone to oversee rescue efforts. “We’re still looking.”

Eduardo Vargas, 29, was asleep with his wife and seven-month-old baby when he was awoken by the sound of neighbors banging on his door. He quickly grabbed his family and fled up a small mountain amid the cries of people in panic.

“There was no time for anything,” he said.

Vargas and his family huddled with about two dozen other residents as rocks, trees, and wooden planks ripped through their neighborhood below. They waited there until daylight, when members of the military helped them down.

When he reached the site of his home Saturday, nothing his family left behind remained.

“Thank God we have our lives,” he said. (AP)

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