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Scores feared dead in Colombian landslides

More than 100 people are feared dead following a landslide that buried a poor area during Colombia’s heaviest rains in decades.

The rains that triggered Sunday’s landslide in the Bello, a suburb of Medellin in Antioquia state, 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.

Rescuers had recovered 23 bodies by early today.

Thirty brick homes were buried by at least 51,000m³ of earth, John Rendon, disaster co-ordinator for Antioquia, said.

Interior minister German Vargas said more than 100 people were missing. 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 said.

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 cancelling a planned trip to Cancun, Mexico, to take part in global climate talks.

Colombia’s government says 1.6M people have either lost their homes or had homes suffer partial damage.

Colombia has two rainy seasons. The first extends from March to June. The second begins in September and normally ends in mid-December.

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