Rain hin­der­ing search for miss­ing in S Lankan land­slides

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

ELAN­GAPI­TIYA VIL­LAGE,—As sol­diers searched Thurs­day for hun­dreds of peo­ple miss­ing af­ter land­slides swal­lowed three cen­tral Sri Lankan vil­lages, fam­ily mem­bers hud­dled in crowded shel­ters wait­ing for news about the fate of loved ones.

Their wait was likely to be long. Heavy rain halted the search sev­eral times dur­ing the day, and new thun­der­ous mud­slides caused al­readyfright­ened vil­lagers to run from the shel­ters.

Au­thor­i­ties warned that con­di­tions were still dan­ger­ous and more mud­slides were pos­si­ble. Two days af­ter the three vil­lages of Siripura, Elan­gapi­tiya and Palle­bage were hit by tor­rents of thick, red mud, res­cuers had re­cov­ered just 18 bod­ies out of hun­dreds be­lieved miss­ing. The Sri Lankan Red Cross said at least 220 fam­i­lies were un­ac­counted for.

Heavy fog, elec­tri­cal out­ages and the loose ground com­pli­cated the search in Ke­galle dis­trict, about 72 kilo­me­ters (45 miles) north of Colombo.

“We will con­tinue the search to­mor­row, but we have to study the sit­u­a­tion” to make sure it’s safe, said army Maj. Gen. Su­dan­tha Ranas­inghe, who was co­or­di­nat­ing search ef­forts.

Asked whether res­cuers ex­pected to find sur­vivors, Ranas­inghe pointed to an area where 66 houses once stood.

“All gone with that land­slide,” he said. “So I have my doubts.” Sol­diers car­ried bod­ies to a school where fam­i­lies waited for news of miss­ing loved ones. The school en­trance was dec­o­rated with white flags, a sym­bol of mourn­ing.

Most of the bod­ies re­cov­ered were in Elan­gapi­tiya, the vil­lage far­thest down the hill, as con­di­tions pre­vented search ef­forts higher up.

Like much of Sri Lanka, the area around the vil­lages had been cleared for agri­cul­ture and tea plan­ta­tions, leav­ing the coun­try­side ex­posed. More than 1,550 peo­ple were crowded into nine shel­ters, where they were be­ing given food, blan­kets and ba­sic med­i­cal treat­ment, of­fi­cials said.

“The de­struc­tion is so bad,” tea farmer A. Dhar­masena said as he hud­dled in the Viyaneliya Bud­dhist Tem­ple with hun­dreds of other evac­uees. “You can’t bring the vil­lage back to what it was be­fore.”

The down­pours that started Sun­day con­tin­ued to lash all of Sri Lanka, caus­ing se­vere flood­ing in cities in­clud­ing Colombo and un­leash­ing smaller mud­slides else­where in the coun­try.

The gov­ern­ment called it the worst nat­u­ral disaster in more than two decades. Since Mon­day, 43 peo­ple have died from light­ning strikes, floods, fall­ing trees and land­slides na­tion­wide, in­clud­ing the 18 con­firmed deaths in the Ke­galle dis­trict, ac­cord­ing to the Disaster Man­age­ment Cen­ter.

Tens of thou­sands have been evac­u­ated from homes across the is­land to some 594 shel­ters. The gov­ern­ment or­dered all schools to close Fri­day, with more rain pre­dicted. For­eign Min­is­ter Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera said there was an ur­gent need for wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion tablets, wa­ter pumps and drink­ing wa­ter.

Many parts of Colombo and its sub­urbs were in­un­dated, with flood­wa­ters reach­ing rooftops in some ar­eas.

“Ev­ery­thing is gone,” said Mo­homed Sabri, who was able to grab his chil­dren’s birth cer­tifi­cates and his pass­port be­fore his home in the Kolon­nawa sub­urb of Colombo dis­ap­peared un­der 3 me­ters (9 feet) of wa­ter. “This ... is un­be­liev­able. All my sav­ings, my valu­ables, have gone with the wa­ter.”—AP

Sri Lankan army sol­diers carry out a search op­er­a­tion in Elan­gapi­tiya vil­lage in Aranayaka, some 72 kilo­me­ters north of Colombo.

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