Hundreds buried under Sri Lanka mudslides

At least 37 people killed and over 350,000 displaced in at least three villages after torrential rains in central hills.

At least 37 people have been killed and nearly 220,000 displaced by landslides which crashed into at least three villages in Aranayaka, in the central hills of Sri Lanka, following torrential rains.

A government official who is part of the rescue efforts told Al Jazeera on Wednesday from Kegalle district, about 72km from the capital Colombo, that one village, Siripura, was buried 40ft under the mud.

Villagers recalled hearing and seeing the torrents of muddy water, tree branches, and debris crashing down around their homes late on Tuesday.

“I heard a huge sound like a plane crashing into the earth,” AG Kamala, 52, who had just returned to her house in Siripura when the landslides hit the area, told the Associated Press news agency.

“I opened my door: I could not believe my eyes as I saw something like a huge fireball rolling down the mountain – and again a huge sound.”

The Disaster Management Centre reported over 350,000 people were affected by the landslides. About 220 families were reported missing, the Sri Lankan Red Cross said in a statement.

The army was called out to help with the rescue effort.

Officials could not give the village populations, but each typically includes about 1,000-1,500 residents.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Rikaz Hussain, the government official, said: “It’s absolutely mind-boggling what sort of disaster this has turned out to be.

“It seems like someone cut off a mountain and planted it on top of the village. There are absolutely no signs of a village ever existing here. There’s no sign of Siripura. The rescue efforts here are futile.”

Hampered by rain

Hussain said sporadic rain was hampering the work of the rescue squad, which had unearthed 18 bodies so far.

“But there are so many other sites and villages affected,” he said.

“Some of the roads are also inundated, so we can’t even get through to those affected. Some places are not even accessible by helicopter.”

One woman, AG Alice, said all nine of her children were unaccounted for.

“I don’t know what happened to me after” the landslides hit with “a thundering sound I have never heard in my life,” she said.

More than 1,000 people who escaped the disaster were provided shelter and medical treatment for minor injuries at a nearby school and a Buddhist temple, according to Mahendra Jagath, a government official.

Temporary shelters

Troops using boats and helicopters elsewhere pulled to safety more than 200 people trapped in the northwestern coastal district of Puttalam, Jayanath Jayaweera, a military spokesperson, said.

The displaced people are being housed in temporary shelters including schools and temples.

Officials gave warning that more landslides and lightning strikes could occur in the countryside, as more rain was forecast in addition to rough seas along the coasts.

Mudslides are common in Sri Lanka during the monsoon season, with heavy deforestation to clear land for agriculture leaving the countryside exposed.

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