Sniffer dogs join search for Sri Lanka mudslide victims

Sniffer dogs join search for Sri Lanka mudslide victims

KOSLANDA, Sri Lanka - Sniffer dogs were brought in Friday to join the search for bodies at a tea plantation in Sri Lanka, two days after a major mudslide buried alive scores of people.

After the operation was suspended on Thursday afternoon because of fresh rains, searching resumed at daybreak with a team of sniffer dogs joining hundreds of troops already at the site of the tragedy in the picturesque Koslanda region, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Colombo.

Although officials have estimated that around 100 people lost their lives on the Meeriyabedda plantation, only a handful of bodies has been dug out from the mud that wiped out scores of homes.

"We are using the sniffer dogs to look for any bodies," said the officer in charge of the sniffer dog unit, without giving his name.

Heavy earth-moving machinery was deployed to the site on Thursday and the officer told reporters that more mechanical diggers were expected to join in the search effort.

The national Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said 100 people were still listed as missing, but added that it was now able to account for 227 residents who escaped because they were either at work or in school when their homes were swamped.

Some 75 children were among those who escaped because they were at school, but a six-year-old girl was lost in the mudslide as she walked to school with her older brother who narrowly escaped, officials said.

Several countries, including India and the United States, have offered to help in the recovery effort.

A State Department spokeswoman said Washington was working on a response after receiving an official request for assistance from the government in Colombo.

More than 1,200 people living in neighbouring tea plantations have sheltered in two schools fearing more mudslides in the picturesque, but unstable tea-growing mountain region, DMC officials said.

Sri Lanka, a tropical island at the foot of India, is prone to weather-related disasters -- especially during the monsoon season when the rains are often welcomed by farmers.

If the death toll does reach three figures, the disaster would be the country's worst since the Dec 2004 tsunami when 31,000 people died.

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