Friday 28 July 2017

Tens of thousands marooned by flooding as Sri Lanka death toll climbs

Houses submerged in floodwater in Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Air Force via AP)
Houses submerged in floodwater in Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Air Force via AP)

Tens of thousands of people remain in relief camps after being marooned by severe flooding and mudslides in Sri Lanka.

At least 194 people have been killed and nearly 100 are missing following the rains that began swamping the southern and western areas of the Indian Ocean island nation last Friday.

The weather has begun to clear, and many of the more than 100,000 people who evacuated over the weekend had returned home to begin clearing debris and mud from their waterlogged homes. More than 80,000 others remained in relief camps because their homes were either destroyed or remain unreachable.

Water levels were slowly starting to recede on Tuesday, but normal road traffic was still not possible, said Predeep Kodipili of the Disaster Management Centre.

The Indian contingent of more than 300 navy personnel was assisting in the relief, with divers searching the waters and medical teams seeing patients in makeshift tents set up at shelters.

A third Indian naval ship arrived on Tuesday, bringing relief supplies including rice, lentils, sugar, milk and blankets for the displaced.

Sri Lankan army trucks carried drinking water and food to those in need. Helicopters ferried medicine, relief supplies and inflatable boats to remote areas, while small vessels plied the floodwaters in search of people needing rescue.

Rescuers had been expecting more possible rains this week, but skies were overcast with only a light rain falling on Monday and Tuesday. The tropical storm that had unleashed last week's downpours, meanwhile, moved farther north and destroyed thousands of coastal homes in Bangladesh.

Sri Lankan army troops in one area south-east of the commercial capital of Colombo were digging into red mud in search of bodies near what was left of Kiribathgala Hill, which came crashing down and buried 15 village homes under earth, rocks and fallen coconut trees. By Monday, they recovered 12 of 26 bodies believed buried by the toppled hill.

The United Nations, Australia and Pakistan also donated supplies including water purification tablets and tents, and the United States and China also pledged relief.

Mudslides have become common during Sri Lanka's summer monsoon season as forests across the tropical Indian Ocean island nation have been cleared for export crops such as tea and rubber. Another massive landslide a year ago killed more than 100 people in central Sri Lanka.

An air force helicopter on a relief mission crash-landed on Monday near the southern town of Baddegama, but all 11 passengers were unhurt. The air force pilot said the crash would not slow rescue efforts.

"Such things can happen when we engage in these kinds of risky operations," air force squadron leader Banuka Delghakubura told local broadcaster Hiru TV. "This will not deter our relief efforts."

Earlier, an airman died after falling while trying to rescue a marooned person from the air.

AP

Press Association

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