KOTIKAWATTA, SRI LANKA — Landslides and floods hit Sri Lanka in full force this month to mark the beginning of monsoon season.
Heavy rains came on May 14, 2016 and continued incessantly for more than 48 hours. That deluge kicked off a series of natural disasters that killed at least 64 people, says Pradeep Kodippili, deputy director at the Disaster Management Centre, in a phone interview.
In the days after the initial deluge, Tropical Cyclone Roanu caused flooding and threats of further landslides that displaced nearly half a million people across 22 of the country’s 25 districts as of noon on May 20.
An additional 131 people from the Kegalle district, where multiple landslides occurred, are considered missing. More than 120 people are missing from the Aranayaka area where three small villages were buried under an avalanche of mud from a hill above the village, Kodippili says. Rescue efforts are continuing, but the hope of finding survivors is fading, he says.
Landslides are an annual risk in some areas of Sri Lanka, including where housing for tea plantation workers is sometimes built on slide-prone land. (Read our story here.)
Floods have been the primary cause of displacement, Kodippili says.
In Colombo district, more than 185,000 people have been displaced, mainly due to the overflowing of the Kelani River, the city’s primary source of drinking water.
Rescue efforts began quickly, which included uncoordinated efforts by people who own boats and wanted to help. Anyone with a boat could join the effort, says W. Obeysekara, a police sergeant attached to the IDH Police Unit near Kotikawatta.
Relief teams delivered food, water, clothing and other items to people who live in the flooded areas. Many people are choosing to remain in the upper levels of their flooded homes because they fear their homes will be looted if they leave.
Global Press Journal’s Nirasha Piyawadani and Manori Wijesekera joined a rescue and relief boat operated by the Sri Lanka Police in the Kotikawatta area in Kolonnawa, a suburb north of Colombo city and adjacent to the Kelani River, which had the highest number of people displaced and affected by the flood in Colombo district. These images were taken as GPJ accompanied that rescue effort.
Manori Wijesekera, GPJ, translated one interview from Sinhala.