Southern Colombia socked by mudslides

Mudslides have left much of Mocoa unfit for passage.

Normalcy came to a grinding halt in Colombia early April 1. Torrential downpours that gave way to mudslides is delaying international mail deliveries for home and business owners, making day-to-day travel next to impossible. But more than anything else, the country is reeling from the loss of life that's shaken the Mocoa community to its core.

While most of Mocoa's residents slept that Saturday morning, southern Colombia's capital city was deluged with heavy amounts of precipitation that engulfed the region in a matter of hours. The pace in which the rain fell proved too much for the ground, lakes, and rivers to absorb, resulting in massive flooding and mudslides that's left the area in ruins, multiple news outlets have reported. Scores of people are injured and by the latest count, more than 300 have died.

Less than 24 hours after the first rain drops fell, Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos issued a televised address, telling those affected that on behalf of the government and the citizens of the country, every effort will go toward getting  families and business owners back on their feet.

"We offer the condolences and the sorrow of an entire country," Santos said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "We will leave Putumayo better than it was before. We will build up Mocoa, it will recover."

Putumayo – the literal translation of which is "gushing river" – lies in the southwest portion of Colombia, adjacent to Ecuador and Peru. Mocoa is its capital city. Despite its meaning, Putumayo rarely sees the kind of rainfall that it got in a matter of 48 hours.  Indeed, during Santos' speech, the speed at which the precipitation fell was last witness over two decades ago, the Journal reported.

Flooding concerns in neighboring Peru
Then again, it hasn't been a typical year for this portion of South America, as Peru has also been hit with massive amounts of recent rainfall, setting in place what CNN meteorologist Michael Guy described as a "perfect storm" of inclement conditions that's made transit virtually impossible.

"Taking into account geography for the region, topography, deforestation due to agriculture, etc … this creates the perfect environment for mudslides and landslides on the leeward side of the Andes mountains where this town is located," Guy explained.

Jose Sanchez, Mocoa mayor, told local broadcasting company Caracol Radio that his home is a shell of its former state.

"My house is destroyed," Sanchez said, told The Journal. "The mud is almost up to the roof."

Fueled by the oversaturation effect of the soil, the three rivers that flank Mocoa all overflowed, spilling out to densely populated locations that once were lined with trees. 

State of economic emergency declared
The casualty toll is far from certain, rising with each passing day. Initial reports had injuries totaling between 100 and 200, but it's since climbed north of 400, multiple reports suggest. Three hundred and eleven people are confirmed dead, according to the Indo Asian News Service but dozens remain unaccounted for. The flood torn region remains in a "state of economic, social and ecological emergency," officially declared by Santos on April 3.

Several relief organizations are on the scene in Colombia, among them the Colombian Red Cross and the American Red Cross. A campaign is underway on social media as well, called #WeAreAllMocoa, launched by the United Nations Development Program.

Much of the world has been affected by massive amounts of rainfall, both in 2017 so far as well as last year. In 2016, 315 natural disasters took place worldwide, resulting in economic losses in excess of $210 billion, Aon Benfield reported. Almost one-third of the damage totals derive from flooding, making it the most damaging weather-related peril for the globe.