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Landslide buries 200 in Colombia

COLOMBIA: As many as 200 people may have been buried in a landslide Sunday that swept over 10 houses near Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, Red Cross relief workers said.

"The initial count is that there may be 150-200 people considered missing. So far, we have rescued three alive," said Cesar Uruena, a Red Cross operations deputy director.

"We are focused on moving rubble to see if we find survivors," he added.

The landslide struck the La Gabriela district of the town of Bello north of Medellin, just after 1900 GMT.

Medellin lies 400 km (250 miles) northwest of Bogota. "The landslide buried 10 houses, each of then with three stories. Because on Sundays people usually have their family over for lunch, we think that on average there were between 15 and 20 people in each house," Uruena explained.

About 300 residents of the neighborhood rushed to search for missing friends and many tried to help rescuers pull away the rubble, bit by twisted bit.

Antioquia Governor Luis Alfredo Ramos also was on the scene of the tragedy. Medellin lies in a valley and many poorer neighborhoods of sometimes precariously-built houses are stacked up the mountainsides where they are highly vulnerable to heavy weather.

Faced with the dire situation, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hurried home from the Ibero-American summit in Mar del Plata in Argentina.

His government was weighing a state of emergency hoping to free up more funds for the country's widespread weather and flood-related damage.

"This is going to cost a lot of money," Santos said referring to overall recovery effort. "Unfortunately, this tragedy has just kept growing."

As of last week, the government estimated weather related damage at more than 300 million dollars - before the weekend's disasters.

Colombia has been lashed in recent weeks by heavy rains that have left at least 176 people dead and 225 injured, as well as 1.5 million people homeless nationwide.

Medellin, Monday, AFP

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