COLOMBO: The death toll in the landslide at the Meeriyabedda estate in the Badulla district of South Sri Lanka rose from 16 to 50 on Thursday, as over 500 soldiers of the Lankan army assisted by hundreds of civilian rescue workers kept clearing the mud and rubble in pouring rain.
All the dead and missing (now believed to be over a 100) were Tamils of Indian Origin working in the estate. Senthil Thondaman, a top leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), a trade union cum political party of the Indian Origin Tamils, who is also a minister in the Uva provincial administration, said that he expects the toll to rise.
“People are buried under 50 ft of mud and debris over an area half a kilometer in length and a kilometer and a half in breadth,” he told Express.
Thondaman said that the Meeriyabedda estate workers had been warned of a landslide and advised to move out, but disaster struck sooner than expected.
“They were packing up to leave to take shelter in a school near by when an unusually massive landslide occurred,” he said. Rescue operations are being done cautiously as the soil is very lose and any mishandling can result in debris falling on the thickly populated Koslanda town further down the hill, he added.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew over the estate on Thursday morning and met officials at Koslanda. Later in the evening, he had a special cabinet meeting to plan out action.
Military spokesman Brig.Ruwan Wanigasooriya said that besides deploying 500 troops from the engineering corps and other units have been pressed into service to search in inaccessible areas. Army sniffer dogs are locating survivors and bodies.