Toll in Colombo garbage dump landslide rises to 30

A man removes wooden door at his damaged house after the collapse.   | Photo Credit: DINUKA LIYANAWATTE

Even as Sri Lanka’s Army continues rescue operations at the garbage dump near Colombo — that crashed on Friday destroying about 150 homes — survivors are waiting anxiously to hear about missing relatives.

As of Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre said 30 persons were dead and 10 were missing, while residents fear many more could be buried in the dump that collapsed in Meethottamulla, a neighbourhood on Colombo’s northeastern edge.

Eleven injured persons were being treated in hospital, spokesman Pradeep Kodippili told The Hindu. Hundreds of residents have been evacuated from the area to nearby shelters, following a warning from the country’s National Building Research Organisation about potential danger of further collapse of the giant pile of urban waste.

Meethottamulla, residents say, is a multi-ethnic neighbourhood with Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, mostly lower middle income and working class families, as residents.

Municipal agencies added nearly 800 tonnes of solid waste every day to the open dump, raising it to 90 metres high over the years. Since 2011, families have been protesting for the garbage dump to be cleared, citing health hazards and the risk of a collapse. While civic authorities claimed that they were working on a long-term waste management project, residents said their calls for urgent action went unheard.

Saktivel Sasikumar had just returned with his family from a temple chariot festival on April 14, when Sri Lanka observed its traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year’s Day. Along with his wife and three children, he got down from the autorickshaw they had hired, and noticed a mountain of garbage crashing right ahead. “Before I knew, my wife and 11-year-old son who walked ahead were gone. In front of my eyes,” he says. His youngest child, now three, escaped “miraculously”. The Army found the bodies of his wife and son, but his eight-year-old daughter is still missing.

It is only two years ago that Mr. Sasikumar, manager at a Colombo gym, moved to the locality. A Tamil from Kandy district, he was married to a Muslim and their family lived in different suburbs of Colombo until then.

“None of my neighbours’ children are alive now,” said Shazuly Sakkaf, whose house was destroyed. His family, which was out on Friday, escaped. “The lady next door would plait her daughter’s hair every morning sitting right there,” he said, pointing to a pile of garbage and debris, as cranes gleaned over what remains of the homes and people that lived there until recently.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 8:25:53 PM |

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