Response to Sri Lanka mudslides stalled by bad weather

Response to Sri Lanka mudslides stalled by bad weather

Sri Lanka grapples with worst natural disaster to be seen since 2004 tsunami that killed tens of thousands

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

COLUMBO, Sri Lanka (AA) - Hundreds of soldiers and relief workers on Saturday resumed the difficult task of rescuing victims of massive landslides, which have already killed dozens of people in three hillside villages in Sri Lanka’s Kegalle District.

After five days of extremely bad weather and landslides that swallowed the three hillside villages, relief workers on the ground said rescue operations were being hindered by the many safety risks faced by aid workers.

Military spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera told Anadolu Agency that rescue efforts had been seriously hampered by torrential rains and the threat of new mudslides.

"But they are moving forward, helping as much as they can. It is not an easy task," he said.

Jayaweera said there was little hope for those reported missing.

"It is difficult to imagine they survived the landslides," he said.

At present, 141 people have been reported missing since the landslides and are now feared buried.

Having recovered over 30 bodies in flood-hit areas where mobility is extremely difficult, rescue workers on Saturday tried to assist landslide victims in Siripura, Pallebage and Elangapitya -- the worst hit areas -- in the district of Kegalle.

But operating in a disaster zone in which massive boulders continue to roll downhill can be difficult.

Senior Communications Manager of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society Mahieash Johnney said that, due to the enormity of the disaster and the possibility of additional mudslides, carrying equipment to disaster-struck areas was difficult.

Some 93,000 families have so far been affected by the floods and landslides, while at least 71 deaths have been reported. Some 660 relief camps have been set up to offer temporary shelter.

It is the worst natural disaster seen by the island-nation since a 2004 tsunami that killed over 30,000 people.

At least 17 of the island’s 25 districts are currently affected by the flooding.

Experts say the landslides are the result of a combination of factors, including extreme weather and the clearance of forest canopies for crop cultivation.

Director of landslide research at the Colombo-based National Building Research Organization, R.M. Senerath Bandara, told Anadolu Agency that people continue to build in high-risk areas.

"The canopy was cleared long ago for cultivation and construction purposes. Bad land-use practices have definitely contributed to the disaster and the results are generally long-term, as we’re experiencing now," he said.

Director of the country’s official meteorology agency, S. Premalal, told Anadolu Agency that the extreme weather conditions caused by Cyclone "Roanu" -- currently pummeling Bangladesh -- would likely ease over the weekend.

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