Santos declares state of emergency to deal with mudslide tragedy

The president of Colombia declared Monday a state of economic, social and ecological emergency to deal with the tragedy suffered by the city of Mocoa, devastated by mudslides that left 262 people dead, and designated his defense minister as reconstruction manager.

After meeting with his Cabinet, President Juan Manuel Santos announced in a televised statement that it was agreed “to declare a state of economic, social and ecological emergency in order to make the budget changes and adopt all the measures necessary to deal with this disaster.”

The natural catastrophe in southern Colombia was caused by the flooding of the Mocoa, Sangoyaco and Mulatos Rivers, which flow through the city and, because of Friday night’s heavy downpours, overflowed to the extent that they wiped out several neighborhoods

The declaration of a social and economic emergency, as established in the Colombian constitution, permits the government to carry out direct contracting and to simplify other steps to deal with a disaster without delay.

Santos said that in the Cabinet meeting it was also decided to transfer 40 billion pesos (some $13.9 million) from the ministry fund to the emergency management office in order to “look after the priorities in humanitarian matters.”

The president said he has designated Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, who will continue to head that ministry, as manager of the reconstruction work due to his experience as chairman of the board of the Eje Cafetero Reconstruction Fund (Forec), after a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck 28 urban centers in five provinces on Jan. 25, 1999, and left 1,185 dead, 8,523 injured, 731 missing and 1.53 million affected.

The president also said the reconstruction projects in Mocoa will include building an aqueduct, a hospital and new dwellings for those left homeless.

A plan will also be designed for Mocoa and Putumayo energy management.

“Reconstruction begins now,” Santos said.

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