The city of Pereira in Western Columbia is known for producing coffee, but on Tuesday morning it made the news for a much darker reason when the area suffered a horrible landslide after heavy morning rains fell on unstable ground.
Part of the La Esneda neighborhood, which is on the border of Pereira and the next-door city of Dosquebradas, was buried.
At least four houses were destroyed in the disaster, and over 50 more were evacuated. As of Wednesday, the disaster management agency from Columbia said that 15 had been confirmed dead, at least 35 were injured and four were still missing, according to CNN.
One local, a taxi driver by the name of Dubernei Hernandez, heard the landslide and saw its aftermath. He said the scene was horrific.
“A very loud noise scared us,” he told AFP, according to BBC. “We went out and saw a piece of the mountain on top of the houses.
“I went to that place and it was a disaster, with people trapped.”
Hernandez jumped into action, helping free a survivor. He also helped uncover two bodies and said he saw multiple homes buried in the mud.
One of the survivors of the disaster was Alvaro Alzate, a 62-year-old baker who lived in the area with family. His brother woke him up early, and Alzate said that’s the only reason he’s still here.
Alzate is bruised and cut, but he’s alive. Sadly, Alzate’s brother, father, niece’s child and neighbors all perished in the slide.
“We’re alive by a miracle,” Alzate said, according to Reuters. “It’s so hard, it hurts so much.
“It was about a quarter past six when it hit, my family was left trapped there. The mud carried me into the street naked, I went down to the avenue in the mud.”
The search for more victims continues, and experts are concerned that the damage isn’t over yet. Nearby areas are still fragile, and if conditions don’t improve, Tuesday’s landslide could just be the beginning.
“Everything is at risk,” regional environmental official Julio Cesar Gomez said. “We could easily be talking about 50,000 people who are located in risk areas.”
“We are currently managing the entire evacuation perimeter because we still detect soil instability,” Government secretary in Risaralda Alvaro Arias told broadcaster Blu Radio, according to Deutsche Welle.
In the past year, over 64 disaster events (including floods and slides) have plagued Columbia, resulting in the death of seven people. In 2017, a terrible landslide in the city of Mocoa killed over 200 people.