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"Biblical rains in Colombia

View Photo Gallery — Biblical rains in Colombia: Dry and wet seasons have merged into a year of nonstop deluge in the country, prompting one resident to say: “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

By Adam Liebendorferand Juan Forero, Published: June 26

FUQUENE, Colombia — It’s been called Colombia’s Katrina, a full year of relentless downpours that have displaced or damaged the homes of 3.7 million people, ruptured major highways, burst dikes and killed hundreds, many in mudslides that engulfed poor communities.

With no reprieve, dry and rainy seasons have merged, with one deluge following another. In remote hamlets, police now patrol from canoes. A swath of farmland the size of Connecticut has been flooded, slamming the country’s vital flower industry and wiping out everything from rice to banana plantations.

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And here just north of Bogota, the capital, Jorge Castiblanco wonders what happened to 16 of his 20 milk cows.

“It’s almost like we’re being punished,” said Castiblanco, 64, standing on his soggy farm in the country’s central savannah, which was not spared despite being 8,000 feet above sea level. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

In Colombian literature, endless rain inundates the mythical town of Macondo, the waters playing a central role in “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the novel by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In real life, the torrential rains are the worst since record-keeping began nearly half a century ago, leaving Colombians asking when it will all end — and how they will dig out from all the muck.

“They say the rain will stop, that the phenomenon will end, but it doesn’t stop,” Miguel Rojas, 75, said by phone from the hamlet of Aguachica in the northeast. Officially, the rainy season has come to a close in the high Andes, but “night and day it rains,” he said.

The rains pose a financial challenge for President Juan Manuel Santos, who is closely allied with the Obama administration in the fight against drugs.

Santos has committed his government to spending billions to compensate more than 4 million people who have lost loved ones or property in a long, simmering civil conflict. Through its National Calamities Fund, the government has spent $2.5 billion on flood relief and reconstruction and plans to spend an additional $1.3 billion, a big price tag in a country with an $82 billion annual budget.

“It’s been the worst disaster that we have had in our history,” Santos said in an interview. “It has been devastating.”

The president, though, has struck an optimistic tone, saying that reconstruction efforts could provide an economic boost. “We want to take advantage of this tragedy and convert it into an opportunity,” he said.

At a news conference at the presidential palace last week, officials who have been working on relief efforts also highlighted the positive. A short film in which villagers profusely thanked the government for assistance was screened for reporters. The president handed out medals to local heroes, and the popular rocker Andres Cabas sang a song, “After the Rain.”

Many in Colombia, though, have accused the government of an erratic response.

Aid has been held up by red tape and malfeasance, with investigations opened in April against 26 mayors over allegations of misusing disaster relief funds, according to Caracol Radio.

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