Relief operations called off in Sri Lanka's landslide, hundreds missing

Colombo, Oct 30 (IANS): Relief operations to recover bodies of around 200 people buried in a massive landslide in central Sri Lanka was called off Thursday due to unrelenting torrential rain, an official said.

The landslide triggered by heavy rainfall left some 818 persons displaced, a coordinating officer with the district Disaster Management Centre (DMC), M.L. Udayakumra told reporters.

"Some 518 persons from 146 families are in one school, while some 300 persons from 97 families are at another," Udayakumra added.

The DMC said that three bodies have been found, while estimating that 192 people are still missing. However, villagers in the area speculate the numbers of missing could be closer to 300, Xinhua reported.

Soldiers were busy cutting through thousands of cubic feet of mud in an attempt to find bodies when the rain and heavy mist returned making recovering efforts impossible. They are expected to return to work Friday using heavy machinery to clear out mounds of earth.

Nearly 75 children have been grouped into two relief camps after they lost their families in the landslide. In fact, the village of Meeriabedda Estate in the central hillside town of Haldumulla has been largely wiped out.

Scrambling to deal with the sudden disaster, the government has ordered 10 schools to be closed till next Monday in an attempt to allow people and authorities to get a grip on the situation.

The children mostly suffering from shock are among the few survivors of the village that once housed more than 60 families. Tracking the number of missing has proved difficult given the records kept by the plantation company where most of these villagers were employed were also swept away by the landslide.

Over 700 army personnel have been deployed to clear up mountains of mud but their work has been hampered by fears of triggering another landslide.

The DMC issued landslide warnings to more than eight regions as severe rains continued to pound the hills. Several hundred families in five districts have also been warned to evacuate to safer areas as massive tracts of earth threatened to dislodge.

Hundreds of people in landslide areas are also flocking to camps with relief organisations providing food, bedding and clothes for them.

India, the US and the UN have offered help for the displaced. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa also paid a short visit to the area Thursday to observe relief operations. He will discuss the situation at a cabinet meeting later in the day to hammer out relief measures, the President's Office announced in a short statement.



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Title: Relief operations called off in Sri Lanka's landslide, hundreds missing

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