Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Heavy Downpour Floods Homes In Colombia

La Pintada Neighborhood in Medellin, Colombia

Floods Threaten Communities in ColombiaIn Central Colombia, authorities have declared a state of emergency after heavy rains hit the area, destroying hundreds of acres of land.

Colombia (CNN) Flooding in central Colombia has left at least 14 people dead, 100 injured and 100,000 homeless over the past week, officials said Wednesday.

Torrential downpours have caused the Magdalena River, the nation's principal waterway, to overflow. The flooding has flattened houses, killed animals and crops, made highways impassable and isolated entire villages.

"We have emergencies in 26 [of a national total of 32] departments and 70 municipalities," said Walter Cote, director of Socorro Nacional for the Colombian Red Cross.

"That signifies very complex movement in isolated sites and that makes our operation very difficult, expensive and, at times, problematic due to issues of security," he told CNN en EspaƱol.

The kids in Medellin play in the flooded streets

The downpour has been thrashing the country for three months. But the storms have worsened in recent days, causing a number of rivers to overflow and unstable areas to collapse in landslides.

Government officials were taking precautions.

"We are not going to run risks," said Diego Palacio, Colombia's minister of social protection. "We are going to persuade people who are on riverbanks or islands that they have to leave immediately."

The government has declared a state of highest alert in almost half the country and has activated agencies to help people who have lost their homes to the floods.

Federal authorities are offering help through the Red Cross, the Civil Defense and firefighters.

In some regions, flood-related illnesses tied to insufficient hygiene have begun to break out, especially among children.

Many Colombians are donating food, medicine and blankets, which the Red Cross has taken to emergency sites.

But Colombians are preparing for more difficulty: Meteorologists predict more rain across much of the country in the next three weeks.

"We know we're going to have difficulties," Cote said. "The number of people may increase sharply -- that is to say, if we continue as we are going, the number of people in need could increase by 50 percent to 100 percent."

Many families in Medellin seek shelter after losing homes

Authorities estimate that Red Cross warehouses containing emergency supplies will go empty within a week.

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