A rain-fuelled landslide that buried a bus and other vehicles in Colombia’s northwest province of Risaralda has killed at least 27 people, authorities said.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced the updated death toll on Monday, writing on Twitter: “It is with sadness that I must announce that 27 people so far, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy in Pueblo Rico, Risaralda.”
Petro expressed “solidarity with the families of the victims” claimed by Sunday’s landslide, adding that “they will have comprehensive support from the national government”.
The deaths come as the region contends with extreme weather resulting from the third straight year of La Nina, a climate pattern through which cooling water in the Pacific Ocean leads to high precipitation in the Andean mountains.
Colombia’s National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD) has estimated that 271 people died between August 2021 and mid-November of this year from emergencies related to La Nina, while 348 others were injured out of an affected population of approximately 743,337.
The vehicles were buried on Sunday while travelling between the villages of Pueblo Rico and Santa Cecilia, in a mountainous area of Colombia known for its coffee production about 230km (140 miles) from the capital, Bogota.
The bus had been en route between Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, and the municipality of Condoto. It set off with approximately 25 passengers on board, according to civil defence officials.
One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide. “Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.
In a statement on Monday, the UNGRD said it had deployed backhoes, trucks and other machinery to sift through the landslide. More than 70 search-and-rescue workers were on the scene to find survivors.
Five people injured in the incident had been transported to hospital for care, the UNGRD said.
Bodies recovered from the landslide were being moved to a covered sports stadium in Pueblo Rico, the town’s Mayor Leonardo Fabio Siagama also told reporters.
Petro has said Colombia is experiencing the worst rainy season in 40 years, and flooding and heavy rains are expected to continue well into 2023.
Last month, the Colombian government declared an emergency, allowing it to draw an estimated $433.8m to address the crisis.
On December 1, the World Bank also announced that it had disbursed $300m to Bogota as part of a development policy loan to help with the emergency response.
The World Bank noted that La Nina was causing “flooding, landslides, torrential rains, flash floods, gale-force winds and electrical storms” that could result in crop damage, “compromising food supplies and increasing prices”.
These environmental emergencies “mainly affect the most vulnerable”, added Mark R Thomas, the World Bank’s director for Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, in a statement.