SL troops dig through mud in search for missing

2016-05-19 17:48
Sri Lankan troops look for survivors after a massive landslide in Kegalle district. (Eranga Jayawardena, AP)

Sri Lankan troops look for survivors after a massive landslide in Kegalle district. (Eranga Jayawardena, AP)

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Aranayaka - Sri Lankan troops were digging through tons of mud on Thursday to search for more than 100 people reported missing after landslides buried two villages, claiming at least 24 lives.

The government vowed to dig "as long as it takes", but hopes were fading of finding survivors in the landslides that hit a mountainous area late on Tuesday after days of heavy rains that triggered flooding.

"We are not giving up," Disaster Management Minister Anura Yapa told reporters in the capital Colombo. "We still consider this a rescue operation and we will dig as long as it takes," he said.

However, the minister said nobody had been pulled alive from the landslides since soon after they struck the villages in the tea-growing district of Kegalle, about 100km northeast of Colombo.

He said about 100 people have since been reported missing, although local police said they have received information of 134 missing from one village alone.

More bodies were recovered on Thursday from one of the destroyed villages, taking the total number killed so far in the landslides to 24.

"We have found seven bodies at Bulathkohupitiya today," a police officer at the scene told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The recoveries came as Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera appealed for international help after the torrential rains brought flooding to many parts of the island.

Samaraweera said the rains were the heaviest recorded in 24 years and official figures show 300 000 people have been forced to flee to state-run relief camps.

"The situation is largely under control now, but we still need a lot of assistance," he told reporters in Colombo. "What we need urgently is water purification tablets, water pumps and things like that."

At least 45 people have died on the island in weather-related disasters since the weekend, officials have said.

'River of mud'

Sheltering at a Buddhist temple in Kegalle, devastated housewife Piyawathi said her son and 10-year-old grandson were killed in the landslides after they swept through his house.

"My son's house has simply disappeared," Piyawathi, whose uses one name, told AFP at the Viyan Eliya temple where she and around 350 others sought refuge.

In the second village, farmer Nihal Edirisinghe, 35, described fleeing his home at the foot of a hill with his family after hearing a "massive sound like an aircraft".

"The entire area was covered in mist," Edirisinghe told AFP. "On Tuesday evening we heard a massive sound like an aircraft at close range. Then I saw the stream next to my house had turned into a river of mud."

He said he returned on Thursday to discover his house was still intact, unlike 34 others in the village that had been swallowed by tonnes of mud.

President Maithripala Sirisena urged authorities to speed up rescue and relief operations after travelling to the area on Wednesday.

"The loss is devastating," he tweeted after his visit.

Authorities have warned there could be further landslides, although the rains were easing across the island.

"We have issued more landslide warnings and have asked residents in vulnerable areas to be vigilant," said Disaster Management Centre spokesperson Pradeep Kodippili.

The meteorological department said the heavy rains were caused by a depression in the Bay of Bengal, ahead of the arrival of the southwest monsoon.

Read more on:    sri lanka  |  weather

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