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Landslides, Floods Kill 200 in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan government says 500 missing, 350,000 homeless from floods

The Associated Press, May 21, 2003

RATNAPURA, Sri Lanka -- At least 500 people were still missing Wednesday in the worst flooding in Sri Lanka in decades while 260 others were confirmed dead, an official said.

Karu Jayasuriya, a government minister in charge of flood relief, said 350,000 people were left homeless in last weekend's flooding, up from an earlier estimate of 150,000.

''People have lost everything, even their clothes. We appeal for help, send us whatever you can,'' Jayasuriya said at a news conference in Colombo, the capital.

On Tuesday, officials estimated the death toll at 300. But with 260 bodies already recovered and hundreds more people missing, the death toll is likely to rise, Jayasuriya said.

''This is not the final figure,'' he said. ''There are areas where we have not been able to reach at all.''

The government has had trouble gathering information about the number of dead because of the remoteness of some villages affected.

''There are at least 500 people about whom we don't have any information. This shows the magnitude of the disaster,'' the official said.

The government appealed to international donors for assistance  especially bottled water, building materials, clothing and medicine.

The floods and landslides struck late Saturday after days of rain. The worst-hit district was Ratnapura with 125 dead.

Sri Lanka is a small tropical island off India's southern tip with 18.6 million people.
© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Boats needed for Sri Lanka flood victims

The Sri Lankan Government desperately needs boats to transport drinking water and food to people cut off by devastating floods, May 20, 2003

More than 240 people are now known to have died in the south of the country and at least 150,000 families have been displaced in Sri Lanka's worst floods in 50 years.

A number of countries have pledged money to the relief effort.

Indian military personnel are working alongside the Sri Lankan armed forces to help the stranded.

Indian navy divers have been searching for bodies while Sri Lankan air force helicopters are dropping food and supplies to the victims.

The BBC's Frances Harrison, who has been to the area, says flood waters have begun to recede in the worst affected district, Ratnapura, leaving a huge trail of destruction.

But further south, large areas are still under water.

People need food. Many have lost their homes and their crops as well.

Roads and bridges have been swept away, trees uprooted, and power cables destroyed.

Power has been switched off in Ratnapura to stop people being electrocuted, one e-mail to BBC News Online said.

Rescue effort

A government statement said police were searching for more boats to transport water and food to the flood victims, the AFP news agency reports.

Rescue workers are trying to move villagers to relief camps set up on dry land.

Air force helicopters dropped food parcels and water to thousands of people in 300 villages in Ratnapura, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south-east of the capital, Colombo.

Two Indian military transport aircraft were due in Colombo on Tuesday with 100 army medical personnel, 20 doctors and medical supplies.

Officials are particularly concerned about the possible spread of diseases such as cholera.

"The flood waters are receding and if there is no more rain the risks are abated, but not completely," Brenda Barrett of the UN High Commission for Refugees said.

The full extent of damage and numbers of those missing are still not clear.

"We can't assess the situation fully because some places are still not reachable," Social Welfare Minister Ravindra Samaraweera said.

Foreign aid

Australia, Norway and the UK pledged money to the relief effort on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe said.

"My government is deeply saddened by the loss of life and by the plight of thousands of displaced families in flooded areas," US Ambassador Ashley Willis said.

Norway has already given Sri Lanka $1m in aid and an Indian ship carrying inflatable boats and rescue equipment is docked in Colombo.

On Monday, the Red Cross appealed for help from abroad and inside the country saying the floods have destroyed houses, blocked roads and submerged power lines.

Sri Lankan MPs cut short a parliamentary session to head back to their constituencies to help with the situation.

It is thought landslides may have blocked one of the rivers in the area, exacerbating severe flooding in Ratnapura.

One survivor, Ranjith Gamini, said he was walking home from a Buddhist temple when he felt things "moving beneath his feet".

"After few seconds I realised that something was very wrong," he told AP.

"I was sinking and sinking, covered with mud and silt." He was eventually found by rescuers and taken to hospital.

Sri Lanka floods kill at least 200, May 19, 2003

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Flash floods and landslides have killed at least 200 people in Sri Lanka over the weekend and as many again are missing.

"At least 200 are dead and a similar number or more are missing," Jayalath Jayawardene, the minister for rehabilitation, resettlement and refugees, told Reuters on Monday.

Officials say 150,000 people have fled their homes and are being sheltered in temples, schools and public buildings.

South central Sri Lanka is reported heaviest hit, and forecasters have predicted more rain in the worst wet spell to hit in more than 50 years.

Some remote areas are described as isolated.

The navy has been called in to help with rescue operations and search for the missing, officials said.

India says it is sending relief supplies and medical teams.

Southern Sri Lanka's beaches are popular with foreign tourists but no foreign visitors were among the dead and there were no reports of tourists being affected, officials said.

Slides, Floods kill 84 in Sri Lanka

The Associated Press, May 18, 2003

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Flash floods and landslides killed at least 84 people in south-central Sri Lanka and 47 more were missing and feared dead, officials said Sunday.

About 150,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, said a relief official in the capital, Colombo. They are being housed in temples, schools and public buildings.

''The worst has happened, an entire village has been wiped out rising our death toll to more than 80,'' said chief administrator Malini Premaratne in Ratnapura district, 60 miles southeast of the capital, Colombo.

The flash floods hit the area Saturday late evening when most residents had returned to their homes after celebrating a festival to mark the birth of the founder of their Buddhist faith, Buddha.

''Many were asleep when they were hit,'' Premaratne said.

To fight the grim situation Sri Lanka asked its immediate neighbor India to send speed boats and experts.

Military forces have joined in the rescue and relief operations. Air force helicopters dropped some food, but not enough to meet the needs of all those affected.

The Sri Lankan Red Cross Society appealed for urgent help.

'We need food and shelter material,'' said Red Cross worker Ananda Lecamwasam. ''With no new rain, the situation is improving, but we need to feed and provide shelter to the affected people.''

Floods of this magnitude are rare in Sri Lanka, a small tropical island country off India's southern coast.

Last week, a cyclone hit Sri Lanka, blowing roofs off houses, uprooting trees and leaving some streets in the capital under three feet of water. Since then it has been raining heavily in central and southern parts of the country, caused by a depression in the Bay of Bengal.

Sri Lanka's monsoon season is at its height between late-May and mid-September.

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.