A Torrent Of Punishment

Mocoa, Colombia – Beyond the number of dead, more than 300, it’s very, very hard to watch the survivors, with their pain and trauma. Many people have lost six, ten, or even more relatives. Not to mention their friends, neighbors, acquaintances, engulfed by the mud.

It happened just before midnight. Many inhabitants slept when the river invaded their house and carried them away. It is all the more difficult because of this city, together with the Putamayo region, is at the heart of an armed conflict that lasts. Many Mocoa residents are displaced or have lost a loved one in clashes between the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, and the army. With this disaster, the tragedy overwhelms them again.

I was at my home in Cali, and on rising on Saturday morning, on April 1, I saw messages on my phone warning that a river had overflowed in Mocoa after torrential rains and There were many victims. But I did not imagine the magnitude of the disaster.

On the first day, the Colombian Red Cross reported 23 dead. As of 6 April, there were 306 deaths, including 92 children, and 314 disappeared.

I first looked for a way to reach the city, in the south of the country. I was able to catch a flight to Puerto Asis, near the border with Ecuador, and go up a road to Mocoa. It only took me two hours because it was spared by the mud, which swept three bridges on the other road leading to the city. Once there I moved with a motorcycle and then walk.

I stayed there for several days, and the smell of the dead bodies was very strong.

There was dirt everywhere, a lot of dust. And the sound of machines used to clear and break the rocks carried by the river.

Sometimes we could also hear tears or the cries of people to whom the body of a relative or an acquaintance was reported.

It is a very heavy atmosphere, very sad.

The scene provides a feeling of complete impotence. It is painful to see the inhabitants try to save the little that remains of their existence, fridges full of water, televisions, some clothes, dolls, shoes. Sincerely, it is very trying. Like the pain, we read on the faces of the survivors. She looks very, very strong. And then there is all the destruction of the environment, houses in crumbs, buried cars.

I was able to take pictures of the site from an army helicopter, and that’s where I really measured the scale of the disaster.

The force of nature surpasses the imagination, with rocks and trees transported by the river, and under which houses were literally buried.

Wherever there was a neighborhood, nothing was left but mud and rocks.

We went up to the source of the river, and to that of landslides, the mud of which inflated the deadly flood.

With the torrential rains, the mountain yielded, notably because of deforestation.

I counted at least ten to twelve places where she collapsed into the river.

The mud flow interrupted the city’s water and electricity supply. The first few days, the food was hard to find locally. For my part, I had a stock of preserves and bottles of water before arriving in Mocoa. My biggest problem was the lack of electricity. I did everything to save the batteries of my cameras and computer, and enjoy the few generators that were running at the hotel or elsewhere.

It is always difficult to work on a natural disaster, but it is even more so with this one. You really have to be careful where you put your feet, not to end up under a heap of debris or crushed by a wall. There is mud, rocks, trees, scattered everywhere. You have to be very focused because there is also a lot of movement around. People who hope to find a loved one, looking for remnants of their life before, or who do not want to hang around

What moved me most was the people waiting at the entrance to the cemetery.

They came with their families, with their own tools, shovels, and picks, to bury their own relatives. Then they entered to recover the body, dig a hole, drop the coffin, and mourn this loss. I was particularly touched by the burial of a trader. “Why did it happen?” What happened? Why did you leave me alone, “lamented the members of his family?

I was particularly touched by the burial of a trader. “Why did it happen? What happened? Why did you leave me alone, “lamented the members of his family?

Funerals are very hard to cover.

It is a very intimate moment of family life. Some wish to be left alone. There are much pain and distress. It’s very hard. And you’re there, taking pictures.

One image that I keep in mind is that of a small group of three or four people, with their shovel and pickax, waiting for permission to enter the cemetery, to recognize the body of the member of their family.

Before digging a hole to place it there and bid farewell. It is this pain that I can not forget. This grief of the family that bids farewell to the one she loves.