Sri Lanka landslides death toll climbs to 24

PHOTO: Reuters

Sri Lankan troops recovered seven more bodies from piles of mud raising the death toll from rain-triggered landslides that buried two villages to 24, an official said.

Soldiers and police were searching for dozens more reported missing in the landslides that hit a mountainous area late Tuesday, after days of heavy rains that have brought flooding to many parts of the island.

The bodies were found in a destroyed village in the tea-growing district of Kegalle, about 100km north-east of the capital. "We have found seven bodies at Bulathkohupitiya today," a police officer at the scene said on condition of anonymity.

Three bodies were found there on Wednesday, while another 14 were pulled the same day from the debris of a neighbouring village.

The area is prone to landslides and many residents had already evacuated their homes when the disaster struck, but police said villagers had reported 134 people still missing.

Sheltering at a nearby Buddhist temple, devastated housewife Piyawathi said her son and 10-year-old grandson were killed in the landslide after it swept through his house.

"My son's house has simply disappeared," Piyawathi said at the Viyan Eliya temple where she and around 350 others sought refuge before the landslide hit.

In the second village, farmer Nihal Edirisinghe, 35, described fleeing his home at the foot of a hill with his family.

"We heard a massive sound like an aircraft at close range. Then I saw the stream next to my house had turned into a river of mud," Edirisinghe said

He said he returned yesterday to discover his house was still intact, unlike 34 others in the village that had been swallowed by tonnes of mud.

President Maithripala Sirisena urged authorities to speed up rescue and relief operations after travelling to the area.

"The loss is devastating," he tweeted after his visit.

The Disaster Management Authority has warned there could be further landslides, and has evacuated families from some areas.

"We have issued more landslide warnings and have asked residents in vulnerable areas to be vigilant," said spokesman Pradeep Kodippili.

At least 43 people have died in weather-related disasters since the weekend, he added.

Hundreds of thousands are already sheltering in state-run welfare centres and the military has been put on alert to help evacuate people in low-lying areas.