Sri Lanka says finding survivors among missing doubtful

Associated Press

Agalawatte, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s military said Saturday that it is doubtful any missing people will be found alive two days after torrents of mud triggered by heavy rain covered homes in southern and western parts of the country, killing 100 people and leaving 99 others missing.

The Disaster Management Center said more than 27,000 people have been displaced by the landslides.

“I have my doubts” that any survivors will be found, said army Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, who is heading the search and rescue mission. He said that mounds of earth and rocks crashed down in such a way that people could hardly survive, and that most of the affected places were still inundated.

“In landslides, it’s difficult to find survivors after two days, and today is the second day,” Ranasinghe said.

The army, navy and air force were continuing to try to reach marooned villagers and evacuate those living in areas prone to mudslides, he said.

There were still difficulties in reaching some areas to deliver emergency aid and the air force has been lowering supplies from the air.

An airman died after falling while trying to get a villager into a helicopter, Ranasinghe said.

The military used large armored vehicles and boats to transport people to safety. But some remained trapped in interior villages where boats have been unable to reach.

At an intersection close to Agalawatte, 60 miles south of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, four bodies in coffins were kept in a house, awaiting boats to be taken to a temple where displaced people have taken refuge.

Five members of the same family who were buried in a mudslide — a husband and wife and their three teenage daughters — were laid to rest in a common grave Saturday afternoon. The family’s eldest son was the only survivor because he was not at home when the disaster occurred.

Residents of Wehangalla village near Agalawatte were marooned as floodwaters swamped most of the buildings up to the roof. They had fled to higher terrain, but four people among them died in a mudslide and three others were missing. They complained that government aid still had not reached the area and they were surviving on food provided by those in nearby villagers.

Muslim fishermen from the nearby coastal town of Beruwala came with their boats to help evacuate those stranded while observing the Ramadan fast.

Sri Lanka’s government appealed to the United Nations as well as other countries for help with rescue and relief measures.

Mudslides have become common during the monsoon season in Sri Lanka, a tropical Indian Ocean island nation, as land has been heavily deforested to grow export crops such as tea and rubber. Last May, a massive landslide killed more than 100 people in central Sri Lanka.