May 2016 – SRI LANKA – The nation’s worst torrential rains for six years have forced tens of thousands from their homes. Rescuers are looking for more than 200 families who are missing following massive landslides in a remote area on the slopes of Sri Lanka’s Central Hills. The Sri Lankan Red Cross said the landslides, which struck on Tuesday after three days of heavy rain, buried three villages – Siripura, Pallebage and Elagipitya – in Kegalle district.
Red Cross officials said they suspected that at least 220 families were missing, going by government population records. Government officials did not confirm the figure. Seventeen bodies have already been recovered from piles of mud, a military spokesman said, taking to 36 the confirmed, countrywide death toll attributed to the severe weather and flooding. The Red Cross said rescue operations had been hampered because roads leading to the mountainous area north-east of the capital, Colombo, were treacherous.
“Rescuers would have to get there by foot and start digging with their hands before we can get any heavy equipment in to the site,” Mahieash Johnney, senior manager of communications at the Red Cross, said. The area had received over 100mm of rain between 15 and 16 May and at least two nearby villages had been evacuated due to fears of a fresh landslide, Red Cross officials said. Torrential rains across Sri Lanka have forced more than 137,000 people from their homes. Rohan Dias, a deputy police inspector, said it was not known how many people had survived the landslides.
“There are about 800 people gathered in the nearby temples including the people from the neighboring villages fearing their villages could also be affected. There are another 400 people in the roads who have come to see their relatives.” WM Abeywickrema, Kegalle district secretary, told a local private channel that around 400 people had been rescued so far. AG Kamala, 52, who had just returned to her house in Siripura village when the landslides hit, told the Associated Press: “I heard a huge sound like a plane crashing into the earth. I opened my door. I could not believe my eyes, as I saw something like a huge fireball rolling down the mountain and again a huge sound.”
The Disaster Management Centre said dozens of houses were destroyed when mountain slopes collapsed, forcing hundreds of villagers to evacuate. The military said dozens of service personnel and eight army officers had been deployed to the rescue area near the town of Aranayaka. –Guardian