The toll from extensive mudslides in southern Colombia has reached 23 dead and 174 injured, Red Cross officials there reported Saturday.
The authorities had earlier put the toll at 16 dead and 65 injured, saying that those numbers might rise. The mudslides Friday followed days of torrential rains.
Governor Sorrel Aroca of the Putumayo department called the development “an unprecedented tragedy”, telling W Radio there were “hundreds of families we have not yet found, and whole neighbourhoods missing”.
Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit, told AFP that the mudslides were caused by the rise of the Mocoa River and three tributaries.
President Juan Manuel Santos said he would travel to Mocoa, the Putumayo capital, to supervise rescue and assistance efforts in the heavily forested region.
His presence would “guarantee attention to the victims of this tragedy, which has all Colombians in mourning”, he said in a Twitter message.
The authorities activated a crisis group including local officials, military units, police and rescue teams to organise the search for missing people and to begin removing hundreds of tons of debris, Marquez said.