Eleven members of a remote indigenous tribe along Colombia’s Caribbean coast have been killed after a lightning bolt struck a thatch-roofed hut where they were gathered.
Military officials said on Monday that another 15 members of the Wiwa tribe that live high in the coastal Sierra Nevada range were injured with burns, six of them seriously.
The electrical storm took place around midnight as the tribe was performing a traditional ceremony accompanied by tribe elders known as “Mamos”.
The lightning strike reduced the area to ashes, according to Luis Quintero, Operational Commander of Santa Marta Police.
Among the injured were men, women and children, who were taken to hospitals and clinics for treatment in the nearby city of Santa Marta.
Mauricio Blanco, an indigenous administrative official, said the tragedy was unprecedented.
“Yes, we’ve had small tragedies from flashes of lighting that have happened in the mountains, but not like this, of this magnitude, that hit directly over a ceremonial house belonging to the people of the Sierra,” he said.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the deaths and expressed his condolences, ordering the military to evacuate by helicopter injured tribe members who otherwise would have to walk downhill for six hours to the nearest road.
“We show our condolences and solidarity with the indigenous people who were affected by lightning in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, which caused the unfortunate death of 11 of our citizens and another 15 people were injured,” he said.
The indigenous people of Colombia comprise about 3.4 percent of the country’s population and belong to 87 different tribes.