Early on Saturday, April 1, torrential rains in Mocoa, Colombia caused three rivers to overflow causing a mudslide and flood waters which devastated the city. As of April 6, the death toll stood at 301, including 92 children, with at least 314 more people still missing. The search for people has been difficult, as the roads into the city are cut off and it has been a challenge to get the heavy machinery needed to dig through the wreckage. Around 2,700 residents have been housed in shelters, but some are camping where their homes used to stand to defend their remaining belongings from looters. In order to help dig people out of the affected areas, more than 1,100 soldiers and police officers have been brought in.

Mocoa, Colombia – Flickr/ Mocoa Putumayo Turismo VIP, Jose Luis E. Marin

President Juan Manuel Santos blamed this disaster on climate change; more than five inches of rain fell Friday night and Saturday morning, almost a third of the normal April rainfall for the area, 16 inches. This disaster, the recent flooding in Peru, and higher than average sea surface temperatures, have created some fears of increased or later El Niño’s this year. These fears are exacerbated because climate change has its most severe effects around the equator. Macoa is at an increased risk of landslides due to factors like its mountainous topography, deforestation due to agriculture, informal housing, as well as above average rainfall, the community vulnerable to landslides this season. Contributing to the deforestation may have been in part from farmers growing coca in and around Mocoa.

There have been warnings, largely ignored by residents, for years from “government agencies, land use experts, and environmental organizations” that Mocoa was at high risk for flooding, due to its location between multiple rivers and agricultural deforestation. There has also been an influx of people into the town, as they fled drug and guerrilla related violence. Some blame the authorities, such as Macao resident Carlos Garces saying “It’s the government’s fault for letting us build homes here. Everyone knew it was going to flood, but nobody did anything.” The government has not yet said if people would be allowed to rebuild in the flood plains. On April 5, officials announced there would be an investigation into whether the current town authorities, and their predecessors had adequately enforced building codes and prepared for disasters, as well as a separate investigation into Mayor Jose Antonio Castro, regional governor Sorrel Aroca.

Sources and Further Reading

Colombia probes Mocoa landslide as death toll tops 300Al Jazeera

At Least 193 Killed in Colombian Avalanche of Mud and WaterNPR

Mudslide in Colombia May Portend El Niño ChaosNational Geographic

Devastating flooding kills at least 290 in ColombiaAccuWeather

Rescuers, locals dig for Colombia flood victims, 254 dieReuters

More than 250 dead in Colombia mudslidesCNN

Years of Warnings, But No Action Proceeded Deadly Floods in ColumbiaTime