MOCOA, Colombia (AP) — People were caught off guard when a devastating flash flood surged through a small city in southern Colombia, but not everyone was surprised.
Government agencies, land use experts, and environmental organizations had said for years that Mocoa could face dangerous flooding. Many who lived in the most vulnerable areas were aware of the warnings, even if they didn't heed them. And yet the city continued to spread into the floodplains west of downtown.
Mocoa was vulnerable because of its location, amid a confluence of rivers in the wet subtropical Amazon region of southern Colombia. The danger had grown worse as trees were cut for cattle ranching and other agriculture, removing protection against flooding and landslides. Then came an influx of new residents, many fleeing violence from the government's long fight with guerrilla forces.
When a month's worth of rain fell in a single night late Friday and early Saturday, the long-predicted disaster had arrived.
Many others didn't react in time.
Three of the six rivers surrounding Mocoa overran their banks. A wall of muddy brown water and tree limbs raced through the streets, destroying homes and carrying away cars and appliances like driftwood. At least 293 people, many of them children, were swept away, and died, according to the most recent count released Wednesday by President Juan Manuel Santos. There were about 340 injured, and more than 300 still unaccounted for amid the wreckage.
It was one of the worst natural disasters in Colombia in recent years.