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U.N., Colombia step up flood relief efforts

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The U.N. refugee agency says 2 million people are affected
  • Colombia expands personal tax to raise money
  • It will also resettle the homeless in lands seized from drug traffickers

(CNN) -- The Colombian government plans to use lands seized from drug traffickers to relocate victims of massive flooding and the United Nations is beefing up emergency measures in what has been called the South American nation's worst natural disaster ever.

More than 300 people have died in the torrential rains that have drenched Colombia for several months and another 2 million people have been affected.

"We found people isolated in the hills, in places where the roads have been destroyed, and their children were hungry," said Marlene Mesa, a staff member for the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement Friday.

The Colombian government announced Wednesday that it has passed a decree that will allow lands confiscated from drug traffickers to be managed by the National Calamity Fund to provide shelter for those left homeless by the floods.

The government said it also plans to lower the threshold for a tax on personal assets in order to raise an additional $3.3 trillion pesos ($1.7 billion) for flood assistance and recovery.

The heavy rains have caused landslides and downpours, damaging almost 300,000 homes, according to the Interior Ministry. In some towns, people have been buried alive under the mud.

The U.N. agency said dozens of towns in the hard-hit north of the country remain submerged.

It is distributing mattresses, hammocks, mosquito nets, blankets, as well as shelter materials for those affected by the deluge of rain.