According to the Red Cross, at least 220 were missing, and another 202 were injured. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos flew to Mocoa, population 345,000, to oversee rescue efforts on the city outskirts and speak with affected families.
“We will do everything possible to help them,” Santos said after confirming the death toll. “It breaks my heart.”
The army said in a statement that 254 people were killed, 400 people had been injured and 200 were missing. More than 1,100 soldiers and police officers were called in to help dig people out in 17 affected neighborhoods.
“It’s a big area,” Mocoa Mayor Jose Antonio Castro, who lost his house, told Caracol radio on Saturday. “A big portion of the many houses were just taken by the avalanche.”
He said that people were warned ahead of time and many were able to get out, but several neighborhoods and two bridges had been destroyed.
Weather authorities said light rains were expected in the area on Saturday night and Sunday.