Asia

Sri Lanka landslide rescue effort is intensified

Rescue teams from the Sri Lankan military work at the site of a landslide at the Meeriyabedda tea plantation (29 October 2014) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There is confusion as to exactly how many people are still buried beneath the debris

Rescue workers in Sri Lanka have intensified their search for survivors of a landslide at a tea plantation in the centre of the country in which more than 100 people are feared buried.

Five excavators normally used to dig trenches joined the search effort at first light on Thursday, military sources told the AFP news agency.

Officials have already warned there is little chance of finding survivors.

It is not certain how many people are trapped in the debris.

The deadly mudslide hit the Meeriyabedda tea plantation near the town of Haldummulla, about 200km (120 miles) east of the capital Colombo, on Wednesday morning.

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Media captionHundreds of people are still thought to be trapped, as Jill McGivering reports

Ministers told the Daily Mirror newspaper in Colombo that 150 people were trapped in the debris. The Island newspaper reported that as many as 250 people were buried alive.

However Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told AFP after visiting the site on Wednesday that the total was closer to about 100 people.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rescuers are to continue their grim search for bodies on Thursday morning
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Its feared that further landslides could add to the destruction
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Houses in the landslide affected area were buried beneath tonnes of earth and debris
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Much of Sri Lanka has been lashed by heavy rain over the past few weeks

He said that most of those who were originally classified as missing were subsequently discovered to be at work or in school.

Correspondents say that compiling a definitive figure has been made harder because an office where village records were maintained was destroyed in the landslide.

Mr Amaraweera said that the area surrounding the tea plantation had also been made unstable by the recent heavy monsoon rains and that the recovery operation would have to proceed "cautiously".

One witness told AFP that there was a noise like thunder when part of a mountainside crashed into the tea estate, burying some of the workers' homes in nine metres (30ft) of mud and debris.

Mud covered many homes, leaving only their roofs visible.

More than 300 survivors spent Wednesday night at two schools near the tea plantation. About 500 military personnel are said to be involved in the rescue operation.

Local MP Udith Lokubandara told the BBC that many parents had returned home after leaving their children at school when the landslip happened.

"It is a very sorry situation because there are many children who have become orphans," he said.

Sections of several national highways have been washed away by the rains, reports say.

The Disaster Management Centre had issued warnings of more mudslides and falling rocks later this week.

In June, monsoon rains triggered landslides in Sri Lanka that killed at least 22 people and forced thousands from their homes.

Monsoon rains are caused by winds in the Indian Ocean and south Asia. They bring about wet and dry seasons in much of the region, and have a large impact on local ecosystems.

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