Sri Lankan res­cuers rush to help thou­sands af­fected by mud­slides, floods.

Sri Lanka grap­ples with dev­as­tat­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ter

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - VANCOUVER -

A group of Sri Lankan sol­diers car­ried a body wrapped in a tar­pau­lin to po­lice for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, while oth­ers dug Mon­day through piles of mud, un­earthing a mo­tor­bike, pieces of fur­ni­ture and clothes, the only signs of 15 homes that stood on Kiri­bath­gala Hill just a few days ago.

He­li­copters searched else­where for peo­ple still ma­rooned af­ter rain-trig­gered floods and mud­slides in­un­dated vil­lages last Thurs­day, killing at least 169 peo­ple and leav­ing 102 oth­ers miss­ing, of­fi­cials say.

The rains caused part of Kiri­bath­gala Hill to come crash­ing down, bury­ing the 15 homes and their 26 in­hab­i­tants un­der huge rocks, mud and fallen coconut trees, vil­lage of­fi­cer Udari Erabedda said. Sol­diers have re­cov­ered 12 bod­ies, in­clud­ing those of two women and a child dug out on Mon­day. The oth­ers re­main miss­ing.

The hill in Sri Lanka’s Rat­na­pura district, known for gems and pre­cious stones, is 120 kilo­me­tres (75 miles) south­east of the cap­i­tal, Colombo. Most res­i­dents make their liv­ing by tend­ing small plots of tea or spices, or by work­ing in nearby gem mines.

K.W. Robo Singo, 72, lost his daugh­ter, grand­daugh­ter and four great-grand­chil­dren.

“I heard a huge sound and saw large rocks and trees crash­ing down,” Singo said. “Within five min­utes ev­ery­thing was over, the whole area was a heap of mud.”

Sriyani Mal­lika wept as she pointed to the area where her brother’s home once stood. She said her brother, his wife and two chil­dren were all buried un­der the mud. Her brother tended a tea plot and wanted to ed­u­cate his son to be­come a doc­tor, she said.

Ter­ri­fied vil­lagers hud­dled in a nearby school, hav­ing left their homes for fear of more mud­slides.

With more rain ex­pected later Mon­day, res­cuers raced to evac­u­ate vil­lagers from the most vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas around the coun­try. Al­ready, more than 75,000 peo­ple have taken shel­ter in 337 relief camps set up in the south and west.

An air force he­li­copter on a relief mis­sion crash-landed near Bad­degama town in the south on Mon­day. All 11 peo­ple on­board es­caped un­hurt. Ear­lier, an air­man died af­ter fall­ing while try­ing to res­cue a ma­rooned per­son from the air. Army boats skimmed along water-filled vil­lage streets, while flood vic­tims waded through the brack­ish waters to army trucks car­ry­ing relief sup­plies.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mud and slush cover the slope at the site of a land­slide on Mon­day in Kiri­bath­gala, in Rat­na­pura district, Sri Lanka.

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