As the flood-stricken Colombian city of Mocoa counts its dead and searches for hundreds missing after frightening mudslides, UK disaster relief charity ShelterBox has been invited by the Red Cross to help in the aftermath of this latest South American flood disaster
A plaintive message was posted on ShelterBox’s Facebook site today. It was from Gloria Cajavilca (right), Secretary of the Rotary Club of Bogota DC in Colombia. She wrote, ‘I’d like to know how we can bring ShelterBox to Mocoa, which yesterday suffered a major collapse in which there are many victims.’
Gloria is referring to torrential rains that brought a sudden onslaught of water, mud, trees and rocks to the city of Mocoa in South West Colombia on Friday night and Saturday morning. Several rivers overflowed, and although warnings were sounded many people failed to hear them, or have time to get out of danger. Colombia’s director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit told news agencies that a third of the region’s expected monthly rain fell during the night.
With search and rescue underway, there is no certainty yet on the number of casualties in this city of 350,000 people, but early estimates range from 200 to 400. 1,100 soldiers and police are involved in the relief effort. Video footage from the city shows residents crying over a list of missing children, along with their ages, pinned to a family welfare centre.
International disaster relief agency ShelterBox is in touch with its Colombia contacts, and has shelter aid already stored in the country. It also has a team currently in neighbouring Peru, monitoring shelter need after flooding since 13 March killed an estimated 78, demolished over 100,000 homes, washed out bridges, and affected more than 640,000 people along Peru’s northern coastal strip.
ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Ayeasia Macintyre says, ‘We are still waiting on data to be released from Mocoa about how many people have been displaced, but for the time being the priority has to be on search and rescue.’
‘We have approached our in-country contacts and colleague agencies from previous responses in Colombia to see if they can provide us with any information on the most urgent needs, and any emerging shelter strategy for people made homeless following this tragedy. The Red Cross has already asked ShelterBox for assistance, so we are looking to mobilise a team.’
‘As is often the case in South American natural disasters, one of our main lines of contact is with Rotarians who can provide eyewitness information and local knowledge. One of our Peru response team will also meet a Colombian associate in Lima this evening to get an update.’
As well as its current assessment role in Peru, ShelterBox also spent many months last year providing equipment and rebuilding kits to people in the coastal communities of neighbouring Ecuador affected by the 7.8 earthquake that struck Ecuador almost a year ago. From 2009 through to 2011 ShelterBox responded to flooding in Colombia, earning praise from the country’s President.
Ayeasia Macintyre adds, ‘We are well placed to offer emergency shelter help, but know that Colombian officials are understandably concentrating on a massive relief operation and search for survivors at present.’
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