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.


UK pledges £20m aid for Beirut blast recovery

The blast in Beirut hit a grain silo in the port, exasperating Lebanon's already rising food insecurity. (File/Reuters)
Updated 09 August 2020

UK pledges £20m aid for Beirut blast recovery

  • World leaders have joined a virtual summit to coordinate an effective humanitarian response to the Beirut blast.
  • French President promises aid will not go to "corrupt hands"

LONDON: The UK has pledged an additional £20 million ($26.09 million) in humanitarian aid to Lebanon in response to last week’s massive explosion in Beirut.

International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the money would go to the UN’s World Food Programme to help Lebanon’s most vulnerable.

The figure was promised at a virtual summit held Sunday that was convened by French President Emmanuel Macron. World leaders met virtually to formulate a global response to the devastating explosion and ensuing humanitarian and economic crisis.

Trevelyan said: “The devastation we have seen in Lebanon this week has left people without homes, medical care and wondering how long it will be until the country’s food supplies run out. Today the world is coming together to stand by the Lebanese people, and as one of the biggest donors to this crisis so far, the UK is pledging more urgent support to help all those affected by this terrible disaster.”

The UK has already provided £5 million in assistance and paid for specialist medics to respond to health needs on the ground. It will also send a Royal Navy vessel to assist the recovery.

Other European countries have also promised to send humanitarian aid. Germany has pledged 10 million euros ($11.78 million) and the European Union has promised 30 million euros.

Despite the sizable donations, the price tag for rebuilding Beirut is likely to cost billions of dollars.

There is also widespread distrust among the Lebanese population about the government’s ability to effectively coordinate the blast response and to manage the huge influx of cash.

Macron, addressing this concern on his recent trip to Beirut, said: “I guarantee you, this (reconstruction) aid will not go to corrupt hands.”