BELLO, Colombia – Rescue workers recovered 23 bodies but said more than 100 people remained missing and feared dead Monday following a landslide that buried a poor Medellin suburb amid Colombia's heaviest rains in decades.
The rains that triggered Sunday's landslide in the suburb of Bello have also driven thousands from their homes, damaged coffee and flower crops and snarled the two-lane highways that are mountainous Colombia's commercial backbone.
"Among the 23 bodies recovered are 11 children," said John Rendon, disaster coordinator for Antioquia state, where Bello is located. Local authorities said nine of the children were playing in a park when the landslide struck.
Claudia Patricia Molina, 37, lost her home when the hillside came crashing down with a roar that sounded "as if someone had placed a bomb." She was about four blocks away, visiting friends, when the slide struck.
"It shook powerfully and when we looked over we saw rocks falling," she said. A couple who lived next to Molina were buried alive with their 2-year-old daughter, she added.
Thirty brick homes were buried by at least 1.7 million cubic feet (50,000 cubic meters) of earth, Rendon said.
"The weather was good yesterday, and also today, but the soil is saturated and it gave," he told The Associated Press.
Interior Minister German Vargas told reporters that more than 100 people were missing as of Monday.
That brought the death toll from floods and mudslides generated by this year's rainfall to 199, said the director of Colombia's national disaster management office, Luz Amanda Pulido. Last year, 110 people died in rainfall-related calamities, while 48 were killed in 2008, Colombian Red Cross director of national relief operations Carlos Ivan Marquez told the AP recently.
This year's rains — exacerbated by the La Nina weather phenomenon — are the heaviest in the 42 years since the country's weather service was created and started keeping records, agency director Ricardo Lozano said.
They prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to announce on Saturday that he was canceling a planned trip to Cancun, Mexico to take part in global climate talks. Scientists believe that rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more extreme fluctuations in climate.
Venezuela has also been hit hard by flooding that has killed at least 34 people and left more than 5,000 people homeless. More than 100,000 people have taken refuge at hundreds of shelters, Venezuelan Defense Minister Carlos Mata Figueroa said.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said all military bases would be converted into refuges and on Sunday he ordered hotels in the coastal city of Higuerote to offer refuge to victims.
Colombia's government says 1.6 million people have either lost their homes or had homes suffer partial damage. About 70 percent to 80 percent live in inundated flood plains and have not abandoned them "because they don't want to leave their homes and belongings for fear of losing everything," Pulido said.
In Antioquia, nearly five out of six municipalities have declared emergencies due to the rains.
Colombia has two rainy seasons. The first extends from March through June. The second begins in September and normally ends in mid-December.
Associated Press writer Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.