Families and rescuers searched desperately through mud-plastered rubble for victims of flooding and landslides in Colombia that have killed at least 254, including around 43 children.
Several rivers burst their banks near the southwestern city of Mocoa, 500 km southwest of Bogota, in the early hours of Saturday, sending water, mud and debris crashing down streets and into houses as people slept.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who travelled to the southern town to personally oversee relief operations, warned the toll could keep climbing.
“Unfortunately, these are still preliminary figures,” he wrote on Twitter.
“We offer our prayers for all of them. We send our condolences and the entire country’s sympathies to their families.”
Describing the horror of it all, Maria Lilia Tisoy, 37, who was looking for her two daughters, one pregnant, and a 4-year-old granddaughter in the rubble was quoted as saying, “I need to know where they are, if they are injured or where to find them.
“If they are dead, please God deliver them to me.”
The debris left by the mudslides was everywhere: buried cars, uprooted trees, children’s toys and stray shoes sticking up out of the mud.
Santos blamed climate change for the disaster, saying Mocoa had received one-third of its usual monthly rain in just one night, causing the rivers to burst their banks.
Disaster officials said 600 people were staying in emergency housing and social services had helped 10 lost children find their parents.
The disaster came amid extreme weather across the region, including deadly flooding in Peru and drought-induced forest fires in Chile.
Families of the dead will receive about $6,400 (Rs 4.15 lakh) in aid, Santos has said. The government will cover hospital and funeral costs.
A “profoundly saddened” Pope Francis said he was praying for the victims.
Colombia’s deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, left more than 20,000 dead.