Sri Lanka intensifies rescue efforts as hope fades for mudslide survivors
All hopes of finding survivors under the mud and rubble of a landslide in south-central Sri Lanka had run out by first light on Thursday, though a government minister cut the estimated death toll to more than 100 from 300 the previous night.
Colombo: A deadly mudslide that hit Sri Lanka's tea plantation in Badullah district might leave no survivors, indicated the country's Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera even as rescue efforts were intensified.
The mudslide that was triggered by heavy monsoon rains was said to have wiped over a hundred houses at Koslanda tea plantation and left more than 300 unaccounted for. So far 14 bodies have been pulled from under the debris.
However, there are conflicting reports about the number of those missing as villagers put it at more than 300 while the minister said only 100 are feared dead.
Talking to a news agency, Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said he didn't expect any survivors.
"I have visited the scene and from what I saw I don't think there will be any survivors," Amaraweera told The Associated Press on Thursday. "But that number is less than 100."
Initial reports from Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Center said some 250 people were missing. But Amaraweera has cut that figure significantly, saying some people believed to have been buried were actually at work or school when the mudslide struck at 7:30 a.m. in the island nation's central hills.
About 500 military personnel and civilians resumed the rescue operation Thursday morning after halting for the night because of rain and slippery conditions. Mud covered many homes, in some cases leaving only the roofs visible. Water gushing down hillsides indicated more slides were possible.
Scores of children who had left for school early morning returned only to see their homes vanished without a trace along with their parents.
Most of Sri Lanka has experienced heavy rain over the past few weeks, and the Disaster Management Center had issued warnings of mudslides and falling rocks. The monsoon season here runs from October through December.
A local government official said that the area had been marked vulnerable since 2008, and evacuation drills had been conducted.
However, workers had not been given alternative homes to move into, the official said on condition of anonymity because government rules prohibit him from speaking to media. He said the absence of a proper rain water draining system on the hill may have loosened the soil over time.
With Agency Inputs