Avalanche in Quetame, Colombia, claims at least 14 lives, some 20 missing

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A powerful avalanche swept through the town Of Quetame, Cundinamarca, early Tuesday. Photo:Ejercito Nacional.

A powerful avalanche of mud and water has struck the town of Quetame, Cundinamarca, resulting in a death toll of at least 14 persons and some 20 still missing.

The catastrophe unfolded as heavy rains caused two rivers to overflow late Monday. Quetame, located 62 kilometers southeast of Bogotá and in close proximity to the Bogotá-Villavicencio highway, has experienced significant damage, including the toll booth El Naranjal, which was severely impacted, resulting in the complete closure of the Vía al Llano.

Cundinamarca Governor Nicolás García expressed deep concern over the substantial numbers of injured persons and those still unaccounted for, among them, at least six children.

Several houses were destroyed, and the bridge connecting this rural municipality to the highway was also swept away in the natural disaster. President Gustavo Petro, who is currently traveling in Europe, acknowledged the severity of the situation and called on local authorities to prioritize land ordinance plans to avert future disasters. Petro is attending the EU-CELAC summit in Brussels, Belgium.

In response to the extensive damage along this vital highway that connects the interior of the country with the agriculturally-rich Eastern plains, the Colombian Air Force (FAC) has dispatched a reconnaissance aircraft to assess the disaster area. Rescue teams from Colombia’s Civil Defense, firefighters and first responders from the departments of Cundinamarca and Meta, arrived early Tuesday to coordinate search and rescue operations alongside the Colombian Army.

Given difficult access to this mountainous region of the Andes, authorities have not been able to confirm how long the Vía al Llano will remain closed. “President Gustavo Petro, we have 8 municipalities in Meta that have decreed public calamity, and emergencies continue in another seven. We have not received support from the National Disaster and Risk Management Unit (UNGRD). We respectfully ask for your help. This situation is beyond our capacity,” remarked Meta Governor Juan Guillermo Zuluaga on Twitter.

As of Tuesday midday, President Petro had yet to express his condolences to the families of the victims.

The toll booth at El Naranjal, near Quetame, Cundinamarca.