Over 150 buried alive; more mountains likely to collapse

Koslanda landslide :


Massive rescue operation underway

8 bodies so far recovered

Victims had not heeded warnings – Minister



by Maheesha Mudugamuwa, Madura Ranwala and Norman Palihawadana

More than 150 persons remain unaccounted for while nearly dozen bodies have been recovered following a landslide which flattened a village at Meeriyabeddawatta in Koslanda in the Badulla District yesterday morning. It is described as the worst natural disaster since the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera last night placed the number of men, women and children buried alive at 150.

A joint rescue operation was underway with the army, police, air force and the district administration participating with all their resources in search of survivors.

Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said that the death toll was expected to mount as the tragedy struck while the villagers who were asleep or busy with the morning household chores had no chance of escape.

Badulla District Secretary Rohana Keerthi Dissanayake, quoting eyewitnesses, told The Island that the landslide which occurred around 7.30 a.m. with a deafening noise and a cloud of smoke had devastated an area encompassing about 20 acres where 317 people had lived mostly in line rooms.

About 60 line rooms, two houses and a kovil had been wiped out by the landslide, Dissanayake said.

Some children had left for school by the time the tragedy struck and they would be taken care of when they returned from school as many of their homes and immediate relatives no longer existed, he said. They would be settled in two camps temporarily set up according to the need of the hour, Dissanayake said.

He also said that a large number of people would have been buried had they not left for work on the estates at the break of dawn. Recovery of the buried bodies would be a huge task that could take days, he added.

A security guard who is resident of the area has told the police that he left home saying goodbye to his family and as he proceeded he had heard a loud noise behind him. When he turned back he had seen nothing but a mountain moving and burying the houses with his family members.

One of the female survivors told a TV channel that she had run away carrying her baby girl when she heard neighbours asking her to run.

Another female survivor said she, too, had heard a loud noise and run only to get stuck in mud up to the hip. Some people had rescued and rushed her to hospital, she said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said that army had deployed about 500 army personnel for the task while police spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana said that they had deployed over 400 personnel for the rescue mission.

Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that his ministry had issued warnings to the people there earlier, but the victims had not heeded them and there were two other mountains nearby prone to landslides.

The minister left for Koslanda immediately after the tragedy had occurred with funds to provide immediate relief to the victims.

Two helicopters were used in the rescue mission but it was impossible to reach the disaster location for few hours due to inclement weather.

The National Building Research Organization (NBRO) Tuesday night issued a landslide warning since the prevailing bad weather conditions were expected to continue for the next 24 hours as well and asked the public to be alert to the possibility of landslides, rock falls and cut slope failures.

The level-2 warning covered Badulla, Bandarawela, Ella divisional secretariat divisions and Ella-Wellawaya Road, Haputale- Beragala Road, Beragala-Wellawaya Road, Badulla-Spring Valley Road, Passara-Lunugala Road and Etampitiya-Welimada Road.

Meteorology Department, Duty Meteorologist Nadee Rupasinghe said that over 100 mm of heavy rains could be expected countrywide until November 1. "There may be temporary localized strong winds during thundershowers. General public is kindly requested to take adequate precautions to minimize any damages caused by lightning activities."

As the monsoon had been activated there would be heavy showers with strong winds countrywide, she said.

The Railway Department said that the train service on the Badulla-Colombo track had come to a standstill after a massive mound of earth had fallen on a locomotive and the track between Ella and Demodara on Tuesday night, the Railway Department said.

The Railway Department said trains would operate up to Bandarawela until the track between Ella and Demodara was cleared and that no trains were operating from Badulla.

According to the Bandarawela Zonal Education Office 10 schools in the Koslanda Education Division have been closed until November 03.

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