Over 200 families feared buried by landslides
Soldiers and police used sticks and bare hands Wednesday to dig through enormous piles of mud covering houses in three villages hit by massive landslides in central Sri Lanka, with hundreds of families reported missing.
By evening, rescuers had pulled 17 bodies from the mud and debris unleashed by several days of heavy rain across the island nation. Officials said the extent of the tragedy was still unclear, but the Sri Lankan Red Cross said at least 220 families were unaccounted for.
“The task is to figure out what happened to them,” the Red Cross said in a statement, noting that some people may have left after local officials warned earlier this week of possible landslides.
Heavy fog, rain, electrical outages and the loose ground were complicating efforts to search for survivors. As night fell, the rescue operation was suspended until dawn. Officials warned that, with rain still falling, more landslides could occur in the area.
Villagers said torrents of muddy water, tree branches and debris came crashing down around their homes Tuesday in the three villages, located at different heights on the same hill in Kegalle District, about 72 kilometers (45 miles) north of Colombo.
“I heard a huge sound like a plane crashing into the Earth,” said 52-year-old A.G. Kamala, who had just returned to her house in one of the villages, Siripura, when the landslides hit. “I opened my door. I could not believe my eyes, as I saw something like a huge fireball rolling down the mountain.”
Near the village of Elangapitiya — furthest down the hill — soldiers carried bodies to a school, where families waited for news of missing loved ones.
Labels: Natural Disasters