Pope ‘deeply pained’ by deaths and destruction in Colombia

Rescuers seek people among the rubble left by mudslides following heavy rains in Mocoa, southern Colombia. (AFP)
Updated 03 April 2017

Pope ‘deeply pained’ by deaths and destruction in Colombia

MOCOA, Colombia: Colombia on Sunday mourned the deaths of an estimated 200 people in the mudslide-devastated town of Mocoa as rescuers searched for survivors in a sea of muck and debris.
Pope Francis weighed in with a message of grief and solidarity with the suffering people of Mocoa, a town of 40,000 in Colombia’s Amazon basin.
“I pray for the victims and want to assure those who weep for the missing of my closeness to them,” the pope said in a statement.
The pope said he is “deeply pained” by “the gigantic avalanche of mud” in Colombia.
The torrent of mud, boulders and debris struck the town with little warning late Friday after days of heavy rains that caused three area rivers to flood.
It swept away homes, bridges, vehicles and trees, leaving piles of wrecked timber buried in thick mud.
The Colombian Red Cross put the number of confirmed deaths at 200. But authorities conceded the death toll could easily go higher because many people were still unaccounted for .
At least 203 people were injured, some 300 families were affected and 25 homes destroyed, the Red Cross said.
As the rain lifted, residents picked their way through a landscape of destruction looking for loved ones or trying to salvage meager belongings.
Most of the hardest hit neighborhoods are poor and populated with people uprooted during the country’s five-decade-long civil war.
Marta Ceballos, a 44-year-old street vendor, said she lost everything to the mudslide, but said she is thankful her family is alive.
“I do not want to even remember that,” she said.
“To see how some people screamed, and others cried, ran, tried to flee in cars, on motorcycles, and how they were trapped in the mud. It’s all too, too difficult,” she said.
“The only things I fortunately did not lose were my husband, my daughters and my nephews,” she said.
Light rain and showers were in the forecast for Sunday but precipitation was expected to diminish Monday and Tuesday, Colombia’s national weather institute said.
President Juan Manuel Santos was scheduled to return on Sunday to Mocoa, the capital of the department of Putumayo, along with Cabinet ministers to supervise rescue efforts in the heavily forested region.
The president met with rescuers and survivors in Mocoa on Saturday, and declared a public health and safety emergency to speed up rescue and aid operations.
Putumayo Gov. Sorrel Aroca called the event “an unprecedented tragedy” for the area.
There are “hundreds of families we have not yet found and whole neighborhoods have disappeared,” he told W Radio on Saturday.
Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit, said that the mudslides were caused by the rise of the Mocoa River and its tributaries.
Some 130 millimeters of rain fell on Friday night, Santos said. “That means 30 percent of monthly rainfall fell (in one night), which precipitated a sudden rise of several rivers,” he said.
“Our prayers are with the victims and those affected,” he added.
One thousand emergency personnel, including soldiers and local police, were deployed to help the rescue effort. Mocoa was left without power or running water, and there were reports of people looting stores searching for bottled water.
“There are lots of people in the streets, lots of people displaced and many houses have collapsed,” retired Mocoa resident Hernando Rodriguez, 69, said by telephone.


China bans wild animal trade until viral outbreak eases

Updated 49 min 11 sec ago

China bans wild animal trade until viral outbreak eases

  • Raising transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden until the epidemic is over
  • The virus has caused 56 confirmed deaths and nearly 2,000 total infections

BEIJING: China on Sunday ordered a temporary ban on the trade in wild animals as the country struggles to contain a deadly virus believed to have been spawned in a market that sold wild animals as food.
Raising, transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden “from the date of the announcement until the national epidemic situation is over,” said a government directive.
The ban was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, the State Administration for Market Regulation, and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.
The lethal virus, which has caused 56 confirmed deaths and nearly 2,000 total infections in China, and spread to about a dozen countries, is believed to have originated in a market in the central city of Wuhan, where a range of wildlife was reportedly sold.
Conservationists have long accused China of tolerating a shadowy trade in exotic animals for food or as ingredients in traditional medicines, including highly endangered species such as the pangolin or tiger.
Health experts say the trade poses a significant and growing public health risk as potentially dangerous animal-borne pathogens that people would normal not be exposed to make the jump to humans.
The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03 also has been traced to wild animals, with scientists saying it likely originated in bats, later reaching humans via civets.
Civets, a cat-like creature, were among dozens of species listed on an exhaustive price list for one of the animal-trading businesses at the Wuhan market that emerged online last week.
Other items included various rats, snakes, giant salamanders and even live wolf pups.
Sunday’s announcement said all businesses, markets, food and beverage outlets and e-commerce platforms are “strictly prohibited from trading in wild animals in any form.”
It added that “consumers must fully understand the health risks of eating wild animals, avoid wild game, and eat healthy.”
The so-called bushmeat trade, along with broader human encroachment on wild habitats, is bringing humans into ever-closer contact with animal viruses that can spread rapidly in today’s connected world, scientists say.
A study by the Global Virome Project, a worldwide effort to increase preparedness for pandemics, estimated that there are nearly 1.7 million undiscovered viruses in the animal kingdom, nearly half of which could be harmful to humans.
Peter Daszak, a virology expert with the project, told AFP its research also indicated that we can expect around five new animal-borne pathogens to infect humanity each year.
China has launched previous crackdowns on the wildlife trade, including after SARS, but conservationists say the trade typically resumes over time.