An avalanche of mud and debris roared over an alpine town in western Colombia before dawn today, killing at least 52 people in a flash flood and mudslide triggered by heavy rains. Residents were stirred from bed in the dead of the night by a loud rumble and neighbors' shouts of "The river! The river!" as modestly built homes and bridges plunged into the Libordiana ravine. Survivors barely had enough time to gather their loved ones. "People were just screaming everywhere, and I ran to help, but the river was impassable, and all the bridges were covered," a survivor told local media, KDVR reports. A construction worker said that never in 34 years living next to the ravine had he suspected such a tragedy was possible. "The river took out everything in its path," he said, including the back part of his home.
The disaster hit around 3am in the town of Salgar, about 60 miles southwest of Medellin. Dozens of rescuers supported by Black Hawk helicopters evacuated residents near the ravine for fear of another mudslide. A red firetruck could be seen hauling away several bodies, their bare feet dangling from an open trunk. President Juan Manuel Santos, who traveled to the town to oversee relief efforts, says several children lost their parents, and the bodies of those killed needed to be transported to Medellin to be identified. As giant diggers were removing debris, he vowed to rebuild the lost homes and provide shelter and assistance for the estimated 500 people affected by the calamity. "Nobody can bring back the dead ... but we have to handle this disaster as best we can to move forward," Santos says. Click for the full story. (Read more landslide stories.)