Sri Lanka steps up monsoon relief as toll hits 113
Rainfall on Friday triggered the worst flooding and landslides in 14 years
Sri Lanka stepped up its military-led relief operations Saturday as nearly half a million people were displaced after a monsoon deluge killed at least 113 people.
Rainfall on Friday triggered the worst flooding and landslides in 14 years in the southern and western parts of the island and although the rain eased on Saturday, low-lying areas remained under water, the authorities said.
Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said a total of 113 people were confirmed dead while over 100 remained missing.
"Most of the fatalities were due to landslides and only a very few drowned," said Senaratne who is also the health minister. He said nearly 500,000 people were forced from their homes and most of them had moved into temporary shelters.
The military stepped up search operations in landslide-hit areas and the airforce deployed five aircraft for rescue operations and another five to transport emergency supplies to villagers who could not be reached by road.
At the village of Bulathsinhala, relatives were seen loading coffins of 10 victims onto army armoured personnel carriers to transport them across flooded streets to high ground for burial.
The military vehicles also ferried villagers along roads converted into riverways by the rainfall, passing submerged traffic signs and flooded houses.
There were similar scenes in the adjoining Ratnapura district, the island's gem capital, which was also flooded. The authorities arranged funerals for dozens of victims.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who returned from a state visit to Australia, travelled to Kalutara, one of the worst affected districts south of Colombo, to supervise relief operations.
"The government will give new houses to those who lost their houses," he said on twitter.
The authorities dropped thousands of life jackets for marooned people in a bid to protect them until they could be moved to safer ground.
An Indian naval ship equipped with medical supplies docked in Colombo Saturday and Indian sailors were deployed with their Sri Lankan counterparts to carry out relief operations.
Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu said a second larger vessel was expected in Colombo on Monday with more aid.
"When you feel the pain, we also feel the pain," the envoy said while formally handing over the Indian aid to Sri Lanka's Foreign minister Ravi Karunanayake at the Colombo port.
The Indian aid included a medical team as well as inflatable boats and medicine. India has offered more aid, including helicopters, to boost relief operations, Senaratne said.
Pakistan said it was in talks with Colombo to send relief supplies. Pakistan recently gave 10,000 tonnes of rice to Sri Lanka to help drought victims.
The meterological department said the latest monsoon ended a prolonged drought that had threatened agriculture as well as hydropower generation.
"The monsoon has firmly established and we could have evening showers at a lesser intensity," meterological department chief S. R. Jayasekera said.
The flooding is the worst since May 2003 when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon, officials said.
Monsoon rains last year caused flooding and landslides, killing over 100 people.
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