The death toll from a massive mudslide that practically wiped out a town in northwest Colombia rose to at least 78 people after rescuers recovered 17 bodies on Tuesday, a day after the natural disaster struck, according to Colombian officials.
There was a miracle amid the tragedy.
Jhosetb Días, an 11-month old baby, was reportedly found alive, buried face-down in the mud, surrounded by stones and sticks, more than a mile from his home, which was swept away by a flash flood, reports El Tiempo.
The baby, one of the children orphaned by the natural disaster, has become symbol of hope. He has been called the “miracle” of the tragedy by various local and international news outlets.
Unfortunately, 16 of the baby’s family members, including the toddler’s mother and maternal grandmother, died in the mudslide, according to Gabriel Ángel Rincón, the baby’s 42-year-old cousin, reports Vertigo Politico.
The bodies of at least 12 family members have been recovered, according to the baby’s cousin. Dias’s father had died 10 months prior to the natural disaster.
“The toll is 78 people dead, 39 of which have been fully identified,” said Maria Ines Cardona, director of Antioquia’s Administrative Department of the System of Prevention, Care and Disaster Recovery, according to Reuters.
Monday’s tragedy took place in the municipality of Salgar, which is nestled in the mountains of Colombia’s Antioquia province, located in the northwestern part of the South American country.
Heavy rains that carried on for three days triggered the overflow of the Liboriana creek, which in turn caused a mudslide and flash floods that swept away dozens of homes in Salgar, including the one where the baby had been sleeping when the tragedy struck.
Olga Osorio, the mayor of Salgar, told Colombia’s RCN Radio that the small town of Santa Margarita was practically “wiped off the map,” adding that the surge of mud and water “tore down everything in its path,” reports Al Jazeera.
As a team of 300 rescuers continued search efforts in the neighborhoods ravaged by the avalanche on Wednesday, authorities told The Associated Press (AP) that there is no chance of finding any more survivors.
It remains uncertain how many people area still missing. Some estimates suggest that there could be between 50 and 80 people missing, reports El Universal.
Citing the latest official figures from Colombia’s National Unit for Disaster Risk Management, Reuters notes that the natural disaster affected 542 people, destroyed 31 homes destroyed, and injured 48 people
The Colombian Family Welfare Institute revealed that there are 119 children among the victims who lost everything after the natural disaster, Semana points out.
Jorge Ivan Montoya, a coordinator for the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF), said they have identified two children who lost their parents in the avalanche, reports El Comercio.
Officials said the affected area was left without electricity, drinking water, or gas. However, water service has been restored by 70 percent and gas by 95 percent, according to El Universal.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to the disaster area to oversee relief efforts. He acknowledged that “several children lost their parents and the bodies of those killed needed to be transported to Medellin, a three-hour drive, for identification,” reports AP.
President Santos made an oath to rebuild the lost homes and provide shelter and assistance for the more than 500 people affected by the calamity. “Nobody can bring back the dead… but we have to handle this disaster as best we can to move forward,” reportedly said Santos.