More than 200 killed in Colombia avalanche

President Juan Manuel Santos, who visited Mocoa for a second straight day on Sunday, declared the area a disaster zone and said the death toll stood at 210.

"Unfortunately, these are still preliminary figures", he wrote on Twitter.

Covered in mud, 38-year-old Marta Gomez told of going to search for her missing niece - and making a chilling find instead. "That's why the system is still trying to locate them and will continue to do so until we find the last person". "The only thing I found was a backpack". "Everybody left", she said. "I ask the whole world and society to help me - whether they are dead or alive, I want to see them", she said.

A man washes a shirt in muddy water in Mocoa, Colombia, Sunday, April 2, 2017.

Rescuers worked in stifling heat under a cloudy sky in the remote Amazon town, the capital of Putumayo department.

The overflow then picked up mud and debris, creating a cascade.

Blaming climate change as the major cause of the sudden downpour in Mocoa, he said the region had received one-third of its usual monthly rain in just one night that resulted in the rivers overflowing and flooding the region. The landslides swept away homes, bridges, vehicles and trees, leaving piles of wrecked timber.

The disaster seemed to hit young people particularly hard.

Pope Francis, speaking in the Italian town of Carpi, said he was "profoundly saddened" by the tragedy and was praying for the victims and those grieving the loss of their loved ones. Santos also said they would launch a health and vaccination campaign in the city to prevent an outbreak of disease.

An unexpected offer of help also came from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist rebel group engaged in a historic peace process with the government. They waited there until daylight, when members of the military helped them down. "The mother as well was totally beaten up" but managed to save her 18-month-old baby, she said.

Images on social media showed cars and buses trapped in several feet of mud.

"It was torrential rainstorm, it got really strong between 11 p.m. and 1 am", said local resident Mario Usale, 42, who was looking for his father-in-law in the debris.

"People do not know what to do... there were no preparations" for such a disaster, he said.

Several deadly landslides have struck Colombia in recent months.

A landslide in November killed nine people in the rural southwestern town of El Tambo, officials said at the time.

Some local media estimate up to 300 people have been killed, while the Colombian Red Cross has a total hovering above 200.

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction combine to make landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster was daunting compared to recent tragedies, including a 2015 landslide that killed almost 100 people.

"Here we are facing a disaster caused by nature, by climate change", Santos said earlier.

According to the BBC, a senior United Nations official in Colombia, Martin Santiago, also said the same.

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