Over 200 families feared buried by landslides in Sri Lanka

During heavy rains in December 2014, Sri Lankan authorities evacuated more than 60,000 people from thousands of homes damaged or destroyed by floods or landslides (File Photo: AP)

Massive landslides triggered by torrential rains crashed down onto three villages in the central hills of Sri Lanka, and more than 200 families were missing Wednesday and feared buried under the mud and debris, the Sri Lankan Red Cross said.

Sixteen bodies have already been recovered and about 180 people have been rescued from the enormous piles of mud unleashed at around 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to military spokesman Brig. Jayanath Jayaweera.

Villagers recalled hearing and seeing the torrents of muddy water, tree branches and debris crashing down around their homes.

“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 Siripura village 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 and again a huge sound.”

More than 300 soldiers were joined by local residents digging through the mud with their hands, sticks and shovels to search for survivors in the farming villages of Siripura, Pallebage and Elagipitya in Kegalle District, about 72 kilometers (45 miles) north of Colombo, Jayaweera said. Heavy fog and continuing rain, along with electricity outages and the instability of the ground, were complicating rescue efforts.

Some 220 families were reported missing, the Sri Lankan Red Cross said in a statement. Officials could not give the village populations, but such villages typically include about 1,000-1,500 residents each.

As anxious family members waited for news about missing loved ones, officials said the full extent of the tragedy was still unclear.

One woman, 70-year-old A.G. Alice, said all nine of her children were unaccounted for. “I don’t know what happened to me after” the landslides hit with “a thundering sound I have never heard in my life,” she said.

A man said his wife, mother-in-law, son and daughter-in-law were all in his house in Siripura when the landslides hit. “I still can’t locate my family,” M.W. Dharmadasa said. “I still don’t know what happened to them.”

State broadcaster Rupavahini showed images of huge mounds of earth covering houses, while cascades of muddy water gushed from hilltops above. Villagers said 66 houses had been buried or damaged, according to local journalist Saman Bandara.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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