Devastated - Aranayaka, worst ever landslide in Sri Lanka | Daily News

Devastated - Aranayaka, worst ever landslide in Sri Lanka

Pictures by  Sulochana Gamage

No warning was given, Affected claim

Residents refusing temporary relocation

Bulathkohupitiya, Aranayaka and other parts of the island struggle to come to terms with the devastation caused by torrential rains and tempestuous weather

Mudiyanselage Nilanthi, a survivor of the Bulathkohupitiya landslide said that disaster had struck without warning: “There was a loud noise and it was all gone,” she said, of the landslide on Tuesday night.

“We were watching the news at 10pm when we heard a tree fall onto the kitchen. We ran out, shouting, trying to warn the others but we heard no response from them,” she recalled in tears.

Nilanthi lost seven members of her family who lived next door. Her father-in-law, J. Kathiresan and her uncle were the first to be dug out from the rubble on Wednesday.

They were living in one of the 10 ‘Andara’ linerooms on the Kalupahana Estate. Only four were spared the disaster.

There are no proper access roads to the linerooms, even in good weather. As the red soil came tumbling down, Nilanthi, carrying her baby, not even an-year-old, scrambled through the slippery jungle pathway to get to a safe location. Two other families, along with Nilanthi, ran for their lives but the horrors of the night were not yet over for them.

“In the thick of the night, there was no one to help us. We finally awoke ‘Chinna Mahatthaya’ and he opened his quarters up for us to spend the night,” Muttaiyah Ramai, 70, said.

The Police said that 13 people escaped from the ‘Andara’ linerooms while 16 were recorded as missing. They later recovered the bodies of 10. Police records show that 34 people have been registered as residing in the 10 linerooms.

The affected have been evacuated to the Sri Seelananda Maha Vidyalaya and the Thannimaley Temple in Bulathkohupitiya.

Rescue mission

Anbalan Chandradevi was quietly led away from the disaster under which her only son was buried. Tears streamed down her face as her nephew guided her down the mountain. She had only just been told that the body of her son A. Kaleichelvam, 24, had been recovered along with that of his father-in-law, Thalai Selvam.

They had heard of the disaster on Wednesday morning, explained her nephew Ravi Prasanna. Unable to find news about her son and his family, Chandradevi had rushed to the location from the Bogawanthalawa estate with her husband and nephew only to be told that her son and his young family were among the victims.

She watched helplessly as rescue workers recovered her son’s body from the red soil. His wife and four-year-old daughter still remain buried.

Sivagami Subramaniam, 40, lay in her final sleep in the soil along with her two sons J. Naveen, 10, and J. Vinoth, 12. Her husband J.Yamuna who was away at work in Colombo when the disaster occurred is now struggling to perform the last rites for his young family.

The 50-member strong Army relief team was able to recover the bodies of 10 persons, including two children by Thursday. The Army is continuing rescue operations to recover the remaining six bodies buried beneath the earth. Four-year-old S. Paruthya and a woman said to be pregnant are among the missing. Bulathkohupitiya, OIC Susantha Ekanayake said they recovered the bodies of five more women yesterday, among them seven-month-old K. Pratheesa.

According to many of the residents and survivors, authorities had not given them any prior warning of a possible landslide.

“We were never told, but now they are saying that they informed us. They are trying to make us into liars,” said S. Perumal, 55, whose lineroom was destroyed in the disaster.

The manager of the Estate, Yohan Rodrigo too confirms the fact. According to him, no government agency them warned of the risk of landslides in the area. However residents recalled a landslide occurring in the 1980s in an area nearby.

Since the disaster occurred, however, the National Building Research Institute has issued a high risk warning to the Kegalle and Ratnapura areas.

Refusing to leave

Even after the disaster, some residents refuse to leave the linerooms to safer locations. Fear of losing their linesrooms and other factors are keeping them from even a temporary relocation.

“We are trying to get them here but they are refusing to leave their homes,” Divisional Secretariat, Ramya Jayasundera said. Her officers were visiting the communities hoping to coax resident to leave for safety.

There were 84 people at Sri Seelananda at the time, and Jayasundera expected 30 more to arrive at the camp.




At present the schools in the Sabaragamuwa Province have been closed, making way for the influx of people looking for shelter but Jayasundera has noted that the situation would prove to be tricky once the schools re-opened.

Adding to the difficulties, fuel stations in the area have run out of petrol, and do not expect supplies for three days more as access roads are flooded.

Uncertainty reigns

In Aranayaka, Kamani Pushpakumara, 38, said she is still waiting to find her husband. “They say there is too much mud to dig through, we are still waiting for them to find him,” she said, unhappily, admitting that there was little hope of finding him.

Her husband was buried alive while on his way home near Pallabage when the landslide in Aranayake destroyed the villages of Siripura, Elangapitiya and Debathgama-Udabage on Tuesday night.

“They say he was near the shop, he had gone to buy some groceries,” she said. Their home in Pallabage is partially damaged and she along with her son, 18, and daughter, 11, have been evacuated as their home was deemed prone to further landslides.

“I now have to look after the children all on my own. I have no idea how I will manage, I am just a day-labourer,” said Pushpakumara who is now temporarily residing in the Hathgampola Pansala with her children.

Along with Pushpakumara’s husband, the authorities are yet to recover the bodies of several hundreds who are still buried deep within the soil. As of Wednesday night, 19 bodies were recovered from the aftermath of the worst ever landslide in Sri Lanka and over 75 have been reported missing. Around 150 families were recorded to be living in the three villages.

Two more mud slides on Wednesday evening and last morning, have made it difficult for relief workers to access the affected areas. Relief work was temporarily halted last morning as bad weather and inaccessibility made it impossible to continue. Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadharashana Yapa however assured that relief and rescue missions would continue.

Sources from the Red Cross revealed that around nine relief camps had been opened as of last morning to provide relief to around 1,700 people. The official said that while there was adequate food and other relief items flooding into the camps, there was still the need to sort out adequate toilet facilities for all.

“Initially, we had only planned for toilets for 300 but more are coming in so we have to work on that,” the source said.

Wimal Ariyaratne, 58, lost his two daughters, son-in-law and son when his house and village in Siripura disappeared with the landslide.

“I have been left with my wife and youngest daughter. We had just gone down the mountain to get something when we heard the whole mountain coming down. It all happened within 10 minutes. The earth had collapsed on them,” he said.

Several government agencies, NGOs and INGOs are working in Aranayake to manage each of the relief camps. Damayanthi Godamulla, Coordinator of the Aranayaka Community Development Centre, who is managing relief efforts at the Hathgampola Pansala said: “We are looking into their basic needs and working with several people. Even a Muslim youth group from Mawanella has helped us. We expect more people to come into the camps as they have informed us that more villages in the surrounding area are at risk of landslides. They said that people from Kalugala and Ambalankaduwa also have been asked to evacuate." Though food and water needs have been looked into, Godamulla observed that they are facing a huge dearth of women’s items.

With the three villages of Siripura, Elangapitiya and Debathgama-Udabage almost completely wiped out, its poverty stricken residents find that they have been left even more destitute.

Pushpakumara was worried that she would not be able to make ends meet and educate her children on a single income while Ariyratne fretted over rebuilding his family on a labourer’s salary.

“We are looked after today but what happens tomorrow when we leave the camp”, asked Pushpakumara. Godamulla stressed that it was important to look into livelihood assistance, counselling and other long-term assistance for the residents once the emergency situation was dealt with.

“These survivors need to be resettled, then they need to be encouraged to get back on their feet and start earning a living. I suggest we start a fund for them so that we can continue to support them even after this. We cannot forget them after this,” she said.

As the living worry about tomorrow, the dead will be buried today with a common funeral service at the Hathgampola Sports Grounds.

Worst disaster in 24 years:  Disaster Management Minister

Colombo, Puttalam, Gampaha worst affected by floods

Ratnapura, Kegalle worst affected by landslides

The country is experiencing the worst disaster in 24 years, Disaster Management Minister, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said yesterday.

The Minister who addressed the diplomatic community at the Foreign Ministry, briefed them of the prevailing situation with managing the disaster and appealed for foreign assistance to aid the victims.

Government agencies and volunteers alike continue to undertake relief operations around the country as increasing numbers of people have been evacuated or displaced due to landslides and floods in the past few days.

Colombo, Puttalam and Gampaha have been the worst hit by the floods while Ratnapura and Kegalle have suffered the worst from landslides.

Yapa explained that the government was able to manage the food and clothing needs of the affected community but highlighted the need for items such as motor boats, purification tablets and equipment to continue rescue and relief efforts.

Health Minister, Rajitha Senaratne said they are dealing with a severe shortage of toilets for the displaced and were looking at a private-public partnership to set up temporary toilets in camps around the country.

In Colombo, 20,000 families have been displaced and temporarily relocated to 60 camps. The areas affected in the Colombo district are Pelwatte, Pattiwila, Seethawaka, Yakkaduwa, Malwana, Modarakanda, Moraela, Yattowita, Morakanda, Pugoda, Nikawewa Sanasukoda, Grandpass, Seedawatte, Kelanimulla, Ambatalle, Weliwita, Hewagama, Bowila, Ranala, Heenpitiya, Meegoda, Pelwattewela, Kahatapitiya, Korathota, Ranwela Kolonnawa, Avissawela, Modera, Hanwella and Biyagama.

“The disaster situation has impacted every district at different levels,” Minister Yapa said. In Gampaha 7,500 families are in 25 camps where 23 women are pregnant and 23 children are under 5.

The minister also said that in Kegalle, 4,000 persons were kept in 40 camps while in Puttlam 4,000 families were displaced.

Fathima's ordeal

On Wednesday morning, Fathima Rehana and her family left home in a boat as they woke up to find the first floor of their two storey house in Kolonnawa under water.

“We were trapped upstairs and could not escape”, she said.

They had initially called many of the government and tri-forces hotlines for help but none had responded. In the end, they were rescued by neighbours.

She is one of close to 10,000 people stranded due to the floods in Kolonnawa.

Dr. Reyes Cassim who is one of the volunteers coordinating the rescue efforts said there was a huge shortage of boats to rescue people. “There are more than 30,000 people trapped but it is difficult for us to get to them. Most of the rescue work is being done by ordinary people in the area and volunteers. Government resources are stretched thin,” he said

Kelani River water levels stabilizing: Irrigation Department Director

The water levels in the Kelani River were stabilizing at 7.45ft, yesterday, said Irrigation Department, Director (Drainage and Flood System), Janaki Meegaswatte as rains in the upper catchment area have started to cease.

Increasing water levels in the Kelani River had led to several areas in Colombo being flooded.

“It is at a steady level. We don’t expect it to rise further,” said Meegaswatte but added that the high water levels would remain for the next three days or so.

Director of Irrigation in the Colombo region, G.K Padmakeerthi addressing a media briefing at the Information Department yesterday said the last time Colombo experienced such severe floods was in 1989.

“In 1989, the water level at Kelani River was at 9.2ft but this time it was only at 7.45ft”, said Padmakeerthi.

Floods occur when the water level reach 5ft in the river. Padmakeerthi warned that if the water levels were to rise up to 9ft or more, they would not be able to manage the flood.

According to Director Irrigation (Hydrology) Prema Hettiarachchi, this year’s flood was severe because there was high rain in both the upper and lower catchment areas of the Kelani River.

“The river was already full to the brim with the rains from the upper catchment so when it rained in the areas of Colombo, that water could not drain further into the river. This caused the floods,” she said.

The current irrigation system she said, depended on gravity to drain out excess water due to rainfall but this time that system did not work.

“We do not have pump stations along the river to pump out the water when there is too much”, she said.

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