New project aims to provide impoverished plantation workers in country’s tea industry with decent housing.
More than 150 people remain missing following a landslide in a hilly south-central Sri Lanka region, with at least 10 people confirmed dead.
The mudslide happened early in the morning on Wednesday, wiping out more than 100 homes of tea garden workers at the Meeriabedda tea estate in Haldummulla, 218km east of the capital, Colombo.
Rescue workers pulled out bodies and troops were mobilised to help with the rescue operations, Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said.
I rushed to find my house no longer there, half the hill had slid down
“As of now we are concerned that the death toll will pass 100. We are hopeful of finding survivors however,” he told Al Jazeera’s Dinouk Colombage.
News reports earlier said there were 300 people missing. But Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez, who is travelling to the disaster area, said that number was downgraded to 150.
She also reported that only 10 people were confirmed dead, even as the disaster agency was quoted as saying earlier that over 100 are believed to have been killed.
She said that 75 children and 75 adults have been located alive. There were about 330 residents registered as living in the area.
In an interview with Al Jazeera’s Colombage, Madhushani Priyanthi who is from community where the tragedy struck, said she was on her way home when the landslide occurred.
“I had left early morning to leave my children at school. I rushed to find my house no longer there, half the hill had slid down,” she said. “My husband, sister and her husband have not been found.”
About 700 rescuers were searching for survivors late on Wednesday. But the operation was later suspended.
“We have suspended the rescue operations because of darkness and inclement weather. There is also threat of further landslide. We will continue from tomorrow,” the disaster management minister, Mahinda Amaraweera, said.
Heavy rains expected
Al Jazeera’s Colombage reported that another landslide warning has been issued, as more thundershowers have been predicted.
“Main roads are closed off while many side roads leading to the area have been blocked due to the heavy rainfall,” he said.
Al Jazeera meteorologist Everton Fox reported that as much as 141mm of rain fell in the region in the last 24 hours that could have triggered the landslide.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa posted a statement on Twitter saying that he had ordered officials to provide early relief and speed up the rescue work.
The Disaster Management Centre said it had repeatedly warned residents to move to safer areas after heavy monsoon rains in recent weeks.
“Unfortunately necessary precautions were not taken by the people,” Amaraweera said.
The monsoon season in the Indian Ocean island nation runs from October through December.
Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, is one of the world’s leading producers of tea. Most Ceylon tea, as it is known, is produced in the central hills, where the high altitudes and rainfall provide favourable conditions.
Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez and Dinouk Colombage contributed to this story.