300 feared killed as mudslide hits Sri Lanka's tea region

300 feared killed as mudslide hits Sri Lanka's tea region

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 11:56 am

File Photo: Searching for mudslide victims

File Photo: Searching for mudslide victims

Mudslides triggered by monsoon rains swept through a tea-growing region of Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people and leaving around 300 more feared missing, disaster officials said.

The landslides hit a well-known tea plantation east of Colombo in the morning, with some homes buried in 30 feet (nine metres) of mud, officials said.

Soldiers were trying to dig through debris for survivors, but rescue efforts were hampered by damage to roads in the area which blocked earth-moving and other heavy equipment from arriving.

“We have reports of 140 houses getting washed away in the mudslides,” Sarath Kumara, a spokesman for the national Disaster Management Centre, told AFP.

“The latest we have got is that at least 300 people may be missing,” the official said, updating an earlier estimate of 200.

Kumara said 16 bodies had been recovered by noon after the disaster in the Koslanda region, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of the capital.

The victims were tea plantation workers and their families, whose homes were located on a mountain slope that came crashing down.

The top military official in the area, Major General Mano Perera, said around 20 units have been deployed for the rescue operation in an unstable mountainous area. But he said efforts were being hampered by poor visibility, with the area shrouded in mist.

The landslide started at about 7.45 am (0215 GMT) and lasted about 10 minutes, Perera said.

“Some houses have been buried in 30 feet (nine metres) of mud.”

– Hopeful of survivors –

Perera said the air force as well as elite police commandos had been deployed for the rescue, and that they were hopeful of finding survivors.

“We have already rescued some people and they have been sent to hospital,” he said, without giving exact figures.

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