Death toll climbs to 273 as rivers recede in Colombia

MOCOA, Colombia — Search teams were still digging and probing into dense piles of mud and debris Monday, refusing to give up the search for survivors of the deadliest floods in the recent history of this Colombian city.

On Monday night, three days after floodwaters rushed through the city of Mocoa, president Juan Manuel Santos said the official death toll had increased to 273.

Earlier, Colombian authorities were checking for any report of movement that could be a sign of life. They were not yet ready to give up on the more than 200 people who remained missing.

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Deadly landslide in Colombia
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Deadly landslide in Colombia
An aerial view shows a flooded area after heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads in Mocoa, Colombia April 1, 2017. Cesar Carrion/Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN ARMY (EJERCITO NACIONAL) / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian soldiers evacuate the victims of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Army (Ejercito Nacional) / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (L) gestures while visiting a flooded area after heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads in Mocoa, Colombia April 1, 2017. Cesar Carrion/Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (4th R) gestures while visiting a flooded area after heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads in Mocoa, Colombia April 1, 2017. Cesar Carrion/Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos overflies a flooded area after heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads in Mocoa, Colombia April 1, 2017. Cesar Carrion/Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN ARMY (EJERCITO NACIONAL) / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian soldiers evacuate the victims of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Army (Ejercito Nacional) / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN ARMY (EJERCITO NACIONAL) / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian soldiers evacuate the victims of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Army (Ejercito Nacional) / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN ARMY (EJERCITO NACIONAL) / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian soldiers evacuate the victims of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Army (Ejercito Nacional) / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN ARMY (EJERCITO NACIONAL) / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian soldiers evacuate the victims of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Army (Ejercito Nacional) / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN PRESIDENCY PRESS OFFICE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visits the disaster area of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Presidency Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN ARMY (EJERCITO NACIONAL) / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian soldiers evacuate the victims of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Army (Ejercito Nacional) / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN ARMY (EJERCITO NACIONAL) / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian soldiers evacuate the victims of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Army (Ejercito Nacional) / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN PRESIDENCY PRESS OFFICE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visits the disaster area of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Presidency Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN ARMY (EJERCITO NACIONAL) / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) An aerial view of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Army (Ejercito Nacional) / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN PRESIDENCY PRESS OFFICE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos holds an emergency meeting after a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Presidency Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOCOA, COLOMBIA - APRIL 01: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'COLOMBIAN PRESIDENCY PRESS OFFICE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (R) visits the disaster area of a deadly landslide that happened following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo Colombia on April 01, 2017. At least 112 people dead and many others wounded and lost due to the landslide. (Photo by Colombian Presidency Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Rescue members walk during the burial of a companion who died after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains lead several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rescue members recover a body in a house after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An excavator works by taking stones from the river, after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains, leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 2, 2017. Picture taken April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
New coffins for reburials, are seen in a cemetery after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People walk in a destroyed area after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains in Mocoa, Colombia April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Aerial view of the mountain where the landslide originated after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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"We do not like to create false expectations but where there is a possibility of life we will do everything possible," said Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of Colombia's National Unit of Disaster and Risk Management.

Much of Mocoa was strewn with rocks, tree limbs, debris and brown muck after heavy rain caused at least three rivers of six rivers that surround Mocoa to rise up and surge through the city of 40,000 in southern Colombia Friday night and early Saturday as people slept.

Downriver from the city, the remains of one young man, a tattoo of a spider on his ankle, appeared amid boulders and tree branches, discovered by a local farmer who was volunteering in the search for remains. Soldiers and Colombian Red Cross workers arrived shortly to wrap him in plastic and took him to the morgue for identification.

Farmer Mario Fernando Melo, wearing a surgical mask as he searched, said it has been a struggle to be surrounded by so many people desperate to find their missing loved ones. "But at least a family will no longer be left with the uncertainty."

In Mocoa, people looking for their loved ones walked along the river banks or went back and checked in repeatedly at the hospital, hoping to find answers. The government says it has identified 170 of those killed, publishing a list that included more than 40 children, including infants and toddlers.

Marquez said authorities had begun releasing the remains to their families and dozens held funerals at the cemetery in Mocoa. Carlos Valdes, the director of the country's forensic service, said they were working feverishly to identify victims and determine the cause of death, which in most cases was trauma from cascading debris.

Manuel Santos and other officials pledged both emergency relief and that Mocoa would be rebuilt, including a new water system to replace the one damaged in the flood and new homes for those in the 17 neighborhoods hit hardest by the surging water. Santos declared an "economic, social and ecological emergency," a designation intended to speed reconstruction efforts.

"We are not going to stop until everyone affected by this natural disaster receives help," Marquez said.

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