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Colombia mudslide toll rises to 46 dead

by Staff Writers
Medellin, Colombia (AFP) Dec 8, 2010
Rescuers said Wednesday they have recovered 46 bodies from a massive weekend mudslide in northwestern Colombia, which was under a local state of emergency to cope with the massive catastrophe.

Among the victims were 22 children, many of whom had participated in celebrations for their first communion near Colombia's second-largest city of Medellin, local disaster relief chief John Rendon told reporters.

As many as a hundred other people are believed to be trapped under tons of debris since Sunday, when a wall of mud slid down a sodden hillside, burying about three dozen homes in the town of Bello.

Manual digging in the area gradually gave way to heavy machinery this week, as rescuers battled a narrowing time window to find people still alive under the mud.

Relatives of the victims, meanwhile, made arrangements for funerals.

Amid the historic downpours, the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group proposed a bilateral truce with President Juan Manuel Santos's government.

"Given the magnitude of the tragedy, the National Liberation Army proposes to agree to a ceasefire with the government and end hostilities on a bilateral basis in order to focus attention on the emergencies," it said in a statement posted online.

Colombia's second largest rebel group, the ELN has been engaged in on-and-off negotiations with the Colombian government since December 2005. The ELN has an estimated 2,500 fighters compared to an estimated 7,000 in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

This rainy season, the country's worst in decades, has left at least 119 people missing and 1.7 million homeless from flooding and landslides. Another 246 people have been injured and some 2,049 homes destroyed, according to the Interior Ministry.

The foul weather has been blamed on the La Nina phenomenon of cooler temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean.

Elsewhere in Latin America, La Nina has also unleashed deadly havoc, killing over 400 people in Central America, including 263 in Guatemala, over 130 in Mexico and 42 in Venezuela.

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London (UPI) Dec 8, 2010
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