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Colombia Mudslide Kills Nine Young Hikers

March 20, 2006 GMT

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A mudslide swept down on a scouting expedition in central Colombia, killing nine young hikers and leaving two others missing, authorities said Sunday. The scouts had just been bathing and practicing knots when they were carried away, survivors said.

The Colombian scouts, ranging in age from 12 to 19, were on an expedition Saturday with two guides near the snowcapped Nevado del Ruiz volcano close to their home city of Manizales, said German Salgado, regional president of the Scouting Association of Colombia.

The scouts were in a boulder-filled canyon when heavy rains caused the Chinchina river to rise several feet, sending down a crushing load of earth and rock that swept away the scouts as they were bathing and practicing knots.

``It wasn’t raining where they were,″ said Maria Pilar Perez, emergency coordinator of Caldas province. ``They had no idea what was coming from upstream.″

Two boys and an adult guide who were rescued Saturday said they had seen the others carried away, Perez said.

``My son was very excited for the outing because he was going to earn a medal for hiking skills,″ said Luis Albeiro Ladino, whose son was still missing.

The broken terrain surrounding the 17,800-foot Nevado del Ruiz volcano has seen tragedy before.

In Colombia’s worst natural disaster, the town of Armero was wiped from the map and 25,000 people were killed in 1985 after an eruption caused hot volcanic flows to melt the ice- and snow-covered summit area, unleashing a cascade of debris down the volcano’s eastern slope.