Mudslides triggered by torrential rains in the western Colombian city of Manizales have left 14 people dead thus far and nine others missing, according to the latest Red Cross report on Wednesday. "The situation is lamentable. I don't want to get ahead of the official figures, but I believe the death toll could rise to 15 or 20," Efe news agency quoted Manizales Mayor Jose Octavio Cardona as saying. In addition, 75 homes have been damaged or destroyed and 23 people injured.
The mudslides were triggered by heavy rainfall Tuesday night and occurred less than 20 days after more than 300 died in the southern Colombian city of Mocoa, where torrential rains caused rivers to burst their banks and send water, mud and debris crashing into residential areas. The neighborhoods hardest hit by the mudslides in Manizales, a mountainous city of more than 400,000 inhabitants, were Aranjuez, Persa, Sierra Morena, Gonzalez and Granjas Y Viviendas.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will travel Wednesday to Manizales given the severity of the situation, the mayor confirmed. The head of the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management, Carlos Ivan Marquez, said that authorities are focusing on searching for the nine missing people.
"Humanitarian assistance is guaranteed and the process of (reestablishing) homes will be one of the goals of the action plan. We'll make a tour of the area with the president," he said. Marquez added that kits for 500 families containing humanitarian food and non-food aid will be distributed and that a subsidy of 150,000 pesos (about $52.30) will be paid to the affected families so that they can find temporary housing.
Cardona said the torrential rains that fell Tuesday in Manizales and triggered the mudslides were unprecedented in that city. Citing the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies, the mayor said 96 millimeters (four inches) of rain had fallen, adding that that amount was enough to cause major problems in any city.
Authorities responded by suspending classes at high schools and universities, urging people to stay inside and suspending the supply of water and gas in some sectors as a preventative measure. Twenty sections of the city were left flooded by the torrential rains, the mayor's office said.