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President: Colombia hit by 'worst natural disaster'

Image: A boy plays in the middle of a landslide in Sabaneta town north west of Colombia, on 25 April.
A boy plays in the middle of a landslide in Sabaneta, a town in northwest Colombia on Monday. Luis Eduardo Noriega / EPA
/ Source:

Months of heavy rains, flooding and mudslides have caused "the worst natural disaster that we can remember," Colombia's president said Monday night.

President Juan Manuel Santos said three million Colombians have been badly affected by heavy rains since the middle of last year (Full text of speech in Spanish in El Espectador newspaper).

"It is as if our entire territory has been affected by a hurricane that came in halfway through last year and hasn't wanted to leave," he said.

The heavy rains, which have brought with them vast road closures and many mudslides, was part of "winter that hasn't stopped hitting us and will continue to affect us for another two months," Santos said.

The adverse weather conditions, known as La Niña, have been classified as the strongest in history, Santos said.

400 dead
More than 400 have been killed by the recent bout of rains, flooding and mudslides, Colombia's W Radio reported quoted the director of risk for the country's Interior Department Carlos Ivan Marquez as saying.

Eighty-eight have died in 2011 alone, Marquez reportedly said.

There was a risk of landslides in nine of the country's 32 departments or regions, he added, according to W Radio.

La Niña is associated with colder-than-normal water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, in contrast to El Niño, which refers to unusually warmer water, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Santos said that the first job of his government was to "concentrate — and continue having to concentrate, for now — on emergency humanitarian assistance."

"We cannot neglect the families affected, nor lower our guard for a single minute," he said.