Sri Lanka floods leave at least 151 dead, aid agencies warn half a million displaced

The flooding has displaced half a million people, Oxfam says. (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

(SOURCE)   Sri Lankan rescuers yesterday continued the grim task of retrieving more bodies, buried beneath deadly mudslides triggered by monsoonal downpours which dumped a month’s rain in single day.

The confirmed death toll now stands at 151.

Authorities said there was now little hope for the 100 or more people still missing, meaning the death toll for disaster may equal floods in 2003 that claimed 250 lives.

Sri Lankan military and rescue teams have used boats and helicopters to reach those stranded and deliver some aid, but officials said access to some areas remained limited in the hard-hit south and western parts of the country.

Sri Lankan army soldiers walk past the debris of houses at a landslide site during a rescue mission in Sri Lanka.

Photo: Authorities said there is little hope for the 100 or more still missing. (Reuters: Dinuka Liyanawatte)

At one of the 185 evacuation shelters, Lasantha Fernando is among the fortunate ones, but also in need of help.

“There are a large number of people who have been affected,” she said.

“But we have not received any relief supplies from anyone.”

Another evacuee, elderly woman P. Somawathi, said simply: “We have nothing left.”

Downpours ‘far more devastating’ than expected: aid agency

Sri Lanka’s Government has asked for international help and aid agencies say the situation is alarming.

“It is very very serious,” said Borjan Kolundzija, Sri Lanka director for charity Oxfam’s Sri Lanka.

“We’re talking about half a million displaced people.

“For at least 100,000 of them, we can safely assume that they lost their homes and their livelihoods.”

Save the Children’s country director in Sri Lanka, Chris McIvor, said that the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka was “alarming”.

“The impact of these early monsoon season downpours has been far more devastating than what we’d normally expect this time of year,” he said.

Mr Kolundzija said getting survivors sustenance, clean water and shelter was critical.

Sri Lankan soldiers drive large military vehicles through floodwaters to evacuate victims, a boat of people paddles next to one.

Photo: Sri Lanka’s Government has asked for international help. (AP: Eranga Jayawardena)

Listing the most urgently-needed items, he said: “It is food, it is water and sanitation support, water storage facilities, temporary latrines and temporary housing.”

The United Nations has promised to donate water purification tablets, tents and other supplies for the displaced.

India sent a shipload of goods, while the United States and Pakistan also promised to send relief supplies.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the ABC in a statement Australia has offered search and rescue teams and is working with the authorities in Colombo and the UN to determine what other assistance might be needed.

Oxfam’s Borjan Kolundzija warned last night the situation was likely to worsen today.

“The forecast for the next two days is also heavy raining, so the numbers [of people affected] … may increase in a couple of days time,” he said.

Compounding the misery, when the water does recede, Sri Lankans are also being warned to expect a jump in cases of the mosquito-borne diseases, like dengue fever.

Sri Lankan villagers prepare to bury victims of a landslide at a cemetery.

Photo: Sri Lankan villagers bury victims of a landslide at a cemetery in Bellana village.

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