A mountain of mud and rocks buried more than 40 people -- many of them searching for the victims of an earlier mudslide -- in a town nestled in the Andean Mountains of western Colombia, authorities said Friday.
After weeks of torrential rains, mudslides Thursday covered several blocks in Argelia, a town 150 miles west of Bogota. The first slide occurred before dawn, the second after rescuers had arrived to help.
Although news reports varied on the numbers of dead, Civil Defense officials said 41 bodies had been pulled out from under the rubble by early Friday.
Senobia Ospina, Argelia's mayor, told Reuters the number of victims was expected to rise to at least 50.
Survivor Maria Dolores Villa said she tried to warn the arriving relief workers that the area was unsafe. "I shouted to stay away, but they had come to rescue a young girl and just kept at it," the El Espectador newspaper quoted her as saying. "I saw the mountain break into two and bury them."
Argelia, a city of 8,000, is in the same coffee-growing region that was struck by a devastating earthquake Jan. 25 that killed at least 1,170 people. The quake had "opened up a crack in the mountain," Ospina said.
Townspeople confirmed they had seen fissures in the hillsides prior to the disaster. "We all feared that one day soon this mountain would cover us all," the El Espectador quoted resident Jersey Quiceno as saying.
Much of Colombia has been lashed by unusually heavy rains this year associated with the La Nina weather phenomenon caused by cooling currents in the Pacific Ocean. Torrential rains have forced rivers over their banks and produced a series of smaller landslides in the area.