BOGOTA (Reuters) - An avalanche of mud smashed into a local bus in Colombia, killing at least 20 people after heavy rains battering the Andean nation caused a landslide, the government's disaster agency said on Thursday.
Downpours caused by the La Nina weather phenomenon have killed hundreds of people across Colombia and forced more than 2 million from their homes in what the government calls the worst natural disaster in the country's history.
Relief workers said a landslide smacked into a bus outside the city of Manizales, the capital of the coffee-producing Caldas department, late on Wednesday.
Twelve bodies have been recovered so far and eight are trapped under the rock and mud, they said.
Flooding in the world's No. 5 coal exporter since mid-2010 has caused billions of dollars in damages, destroyed infrastructure, submerged houses and killed crops and animals.
Colombia's weather office says La Nina will continue until June, but rains are expected to be less than previous months.
Top foreign exchange earners such as coal and coffee were hit last year, but so far in 2011, exporters say the impact has not been so strong except for a few days in January.
Colombia's economy grew 4.3 percent in 2010 -- the strongest annual growth since 2007 before the global economic crisis -- beating analysts' expectations that the strong rains would bite into growth.
The government had decreed a budget addition of $3 billion this year to attend to victims of the rains, but the constitutional court struck that down, forcing the government to send a bill to Congress for the extra money.
The court also rejected one aspect of the financing plan for the additional money -- the planned sale of up to 10 percent of state oil company Ecopetrol.
Reconstruction work could cost Latin America's No. 4 oil producer between $5 billion and $7 billion and some projects could take years, but the government says the spending will likely have a positive effect on economic growth.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; writing by Jack Kimball; editing by Mohammad Zargham)