By Amal Jayasinghe
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka sent in troops to rescue thousands of marooned residents in the capital on Thursday after the heaviest rains in 18 years flooded the capital's streets and the national parliament.
Speaker Chamal Rajapakse was forced to go by boat to inspect the parliament building located on an island in a man-made lake, which can usually be accessed by road. He was expected to cancel Thursday's session.
Officials said the parliament was under three feet (just under a metre) of water after rains dumped 43.5 centimetres (17.12 inches) of rain overnight, making it the worst since June 1992 when 49.7 centimetres fell in a day.
"We are deploying troops to rescue people who have been marooned as well as to clear dozens of cars struck in flooded roads," said Colonel Dampath Ratnayake who was coordinating relief at the Colombo Operations Command.
He said some troops were cooking breakfasts and lunches for people whose houses were flooded in and around the city centre.
"The storm water system is unable to cope with the volume of water and we are also sending troops to help municipal workers clear some of the blocked drains," he said.
Boats were deployed by the navy to help stranded residents and police said thousands of houses were under water. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Telephones and Internet connections were also downed because of lightening damage to telecom towers, and the authorities shut most public schools and cancelled a national examination.
Many banks shut down their automatic teller machines as their computer networks were affected by the lightening. Most landline telephone connections were out, while fallen trees brought down power lines.
"As soon as we clear the trees and make sure it is safe, we will restore electricity," the Ceylon Electricity Board said.
Police deployed additional officers on roads as traffic lights failed and some of the flooded thoroughfares were blocked with stalled vehicles.
A government spokesman said flood-affected civil servants would be granted paid leave and urged the private sector to follow suit.
The met department said more rain was expected during the day along the island's western coastal regions.
"Heavy rains are due to intermonsoonal activity and we can expect more rain," met chief G. D. Samarasinghe said.
Sri Lanka depends on monsoon rains for irrigation and power generation but the seasonal downpours frequently cause loss of life and damage to property in low-lying areas.
The island's two main monsoon seasons run from May to September and December to February and rains in between are the result of inter-monsoon activity.