Sri Lanka president visits landslide-hit area, nearly 200 still missing

Colombo Oct 30: Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa Thursday visited landslide-affected residents in the country's central region where rescuers are working hard to search for nearly 200 people who are still missing.

No new bodies have been found despite excavations carried out at the landslide site, Xinhua reported.

Rajapaksa, who paid a hurried visit to the area, met with army personnel and government officials leading relief operations. He also visited relief camps where relatives, including about 75 children who lived in the Meeriabedda Estate are now housed after the landslide swept away their parents.

However, he did not tour the actual landslide area where teams of soldiers are hacking away at thousands of cubic feet of mud in a massive search for bodies, preferring to view the area from his helicopter.

"The president will discuss this situation at the cabinet meeting tonight with the aim of providing relief measures," said the President's Office following the observation tour.

Nearly 75 children have been grouped into two relief camps after the massive landslide crashed into an estimated 120 plantation homes, burying hundreds people. In fact the entire village of Meeriabedda Estate in the central hillside town of Haldumulla has been largely wiped out.

The state-run Disaster Management Centre, which is coordinating the relief efforts, has announced three bodies have been found and 192 people remain missing. But residents of nearby villages speaking to Xinhua speculated the number to be around 300.

If so this could be the largest natural disaster faced by Sri Lanka since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that claimed over 40,000 lives.

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 the missing people has proved difficult as 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 mounds of mud but their work has been hampered by fears of triggering another landslide.

Torrential rains are continuing with thick mist rolling in from the surrounding hillsides, making the digging difficult.

The Disaster Management Centre 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 where relief organisations are providing food, bedding and clothes for them.


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