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22 February 2024

Hundreds evacuated after deadly Sri Lanka dump collapse

Photo: AFP


Sri Lanka has moved over 400 families to temporary shelters after tonnes of rotting garbage collapsed onto a slum on Friday, killing at least 28 people.

Some 145 homes were destroyed when the 300-foot (90-metre) rubbish mountain came crashing down on Friday afternoon at Kolonnawa on the northeastern edge of Colombo. Police say many more buildings were damaged and could collapse at any time.

Hundreds of soldiers have kept up the search for survivors amid reports that seven people from four families were still missing after the disaster, which followed heavy rain the previous day and a fire hours earlier.

It came as the country celebrated the traditional new year and followed a warning to parliament that the 23 million tonnes of rotting garbage posed a serious health hazard.

"We are keeping up the search but we are not very hopeful of finding anyone alive in these conditions," military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne told AFP on Monday.

The discovery of a man's body and a dismembered limb during the search Monday had pushed the death toll to 28, Seneviratne added.

Disaster management officials said 1,700 people had been moved to temporary shelters in state schools while the government looked for alternative accommodation.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was visiting Japan at the time, said arrangementshad been made to clear away the garbage dump, but it came crashing down before work could begin.

About 800 tonnes of solid waste from the capital is added to the open dump every day. Efforts are under way to generate electricity using the waste.

Police have stepped up security in the area following reports of looting and said they arrested 23 men suspected of stealing victims' belongings.

Wickremesinghe said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered help with the recovery effort and a technical team would be sent to Sri Lanka to evaluate the situation.