Sri Lankan rescuers rush to help thousands affected by mudslides, floods.
Sri Lanka grapples with devastating natural disaster
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.
Mud and slush cover the slope at the site of a landslide on Monday in Kiribathgala, in Ratnapura district, Sri Lanka.