Heavy rains and gale force winds wreak havoc

Five dead, 13 injured


The Sri Lanka Navy and the Air Force launched a coordinated rescue operation yesterday as heavy rains and gale force winds wreaked havoc leaving at least five fishermen dead, 13 injured and extensive property damage across the country’s Southern coastal belt, senior officials said.

Naval vessels and Air Force Bell 412 helicopters were deployed in the mission to rescue fishermen who had set sail on Friday night mostly from points along the Dehiwala and Beruwala coastal areas and were caught up in the stormy weather, they said.

As the gale force winds developed shortly after midnight on Friday, the fisher folk had been caught virtually unawares, with the heavy downpour and giant tidal waves tossing their boats resulting in some capsizing and many others going adrift after losing direction.

Reports also spoke of 17 fishermen missing and feared drowned, but figures were immediately unavailable.

While naval vessels and SLAF choppers scoured the turbulent seas, 20 stranded fishermen were rescued, some badly injured. Twelve of them were admitted to the Balapitiya hospital. Reports also indicated that some fishing boats remained unaccounted for with the fate of the occupants unknown.

The Disaster Management Center (DMC) in Colombo said that the bodies of two fishermen were washed ashore at Beruwala, while another two were found at Ambalangoda. Another death was reported from Ratnapura when a tree crashed on to a house at Kolonne.

Ten families (40 individuals) were also displaced in Ratnapura due to the inclement weather conditions, he said. "They have been given shelter in an alternate location until conditions improved".

The Navy had also dispatched three ships from Colombo and Galle to rescue fishermen lost at sea.

Twenty fishing boats had been damaged or destroyed in the turbulence by gale force winds, DMC official Lal Sarath Kumara said. "The debris of these fishing craft had washed ashore in some area on the Southern coastal belt".In Matara, the houses of 25 families (comprising 121 individuals) were badly damaged by the strong winds, he said. "We have also received reports of damage and destruction from the Kalutara and Galle areas".

"Our officers are out in the field and according to information gathered the coastal stretch between Dehiwala and Beruwala was the worst hit",

Strong winds also damaged houses and uprooted trees in Colombo and many parts of the country. "It was not the rain that caused most of the damage but the howling winds".

Giant trees were uprooted in the metropolis and other parts of the country blocking key roads and obstructing traffic. A giant tree which was uprooted by strong winds on the Galle Road and the Colombo-Kandy Road held up traffic, which was fortunately sparse as it was a Saturday. An old, huge tree collapsed at Maitland Crescent badly damaging a two-storied house.

The wind speed may increase up to 80 kmph, the Meteorology Department predicted, warning people to be "vigilant of the prevailing bad weather".

A tense situation developed at Dehiwala when a group of irate fisher-folk dragged their boats across the rail track yesterday morning disrupting train services on the Southern coastal line for many hours. They demanded that their missing colleagues be rescued immediately and also a warning light be installed at a vantage point to guide those going out to sea particularly during inclement weather.

The angry protesters also made a bonfire on the rail track to focus attention on their plight, but later dispersed following assurances by Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia Mayor, Dhanasiri Amaratunga and Senior DIG (Western Province) Anura Senanayake.

Three fishermen who had set sail from Dehiwala, but had swum ashore when their craft capsized, were amongst the agitating members of the fisher community.

The fishermen complained that there had been no prior warning of gale force winds, which would have otherwise sounded a note of caution and generated a sense of preparedness on the part of those venturing out to face the worst.

Journalists covering the protest also saw a badly mutilated turtle, which had been carried ashore by the huge waves and flung against the rocks on the shore.

Adverse weather conditions with strong winds will continue due to activation of South-west monsoon over Sri Lanka today as well, the department cautioned.

Fishermen and naval communities were advised to refrain from their routine activities in the deep and shallow sea areas, especially off the coast extending from Mannar to Pottuvil via Colombo, Galle and Hambantota due to the prevailing windy conditions.

Met Dept. says it warned of "rough seas and strong winds"

The Department of Meteorology said yesterday that its weather forecast issued at 4 pm on Friday warned of "rough seas and strong winds".

"It is well known that seas are generally rough around this time of the year as it is the monsoon season", an official said.

"We did issue a timely warning though it is not practically possible for the department to specifically warn fishermen not to venture into the seas of one particular area", he said.

That was why a general warning of rough seas and strong winds was issued, as usually done, he noted. (SP)

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