COLOMBO - Mudslides triggered by monsoon rains swept through a tea-growing region of Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving around 200 more missing, disaster officials said.
Some of the worst damage was recorded at a well-known tea plantation several hours' drive to the east of the capital Colombo. Rescue efforts were being hampered by damage to roads in the region.
"We have reports of 140 houses getting washed away in the mudslides," Sarath Kumara, a spokesman for the national Disaster Management Centre, told AFP.
"There are reports that up to 200 people may be missing." Kumara said 10 bodies had been recovered by noon after the disaster in the Koslanda region, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Colombo.
The top military official in the area, Major General Mano Perera, said around 20 units have been deployed for the rescue effort.
But he said efforts were being hampered by poor visibility, with the area shrouded in mist.
The landslide started at about 7.45 a.m. (0215 GMT) and lasted about 10 minutes, Perera said.
"Some houses have been buried in 30 feet (nine metres) of mud." Perera said the air force as well as elite police commandos had been deployed for the rescue, adding 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.
The government's disaster management minister said he was already on his way to the area to assess the damage.
"We are coordinating with all agencies to ensure that relief is sent as quickly as possible, but the weather is a factor that is slowing us down," the minister, Mahinda Amaraweera, told AFP One of the main focuses of the search was the Meeriyabedda tea plantation, which lies close to a beauty spot famous for its waterfalls.
The victims were tea plantation workers and their families.
A local hospital source said two men and a woman rescued from the mud had been brought in for treatment.
Sections of several national highways had also been washed away by the rains, slowing down the movement of rescue vehicles.
The disaster struck in an area prone to mudslides and residents had been repeatedly warned to move to safer areas as monsoon rains lashed the region, the disaster management committee said.
Thirteen people were killed in mudslides in and around Colombo in June.
The annual monsoon brings vital rains for irrigation and electricity generation but also causes frequent loss of life and damage to property.
Cyclonic winds that accompanied the monsoon in June last year killed 54 people, mostly fishermen.