More than 500 soldiers of the Army 11 Division were deployed in the rescue operations at the site of a massive landslide in Koslanda, Haldummulla that buried a string of line rooms along with some 200 to 300 people just after dawn yesterday (Oct. 29).
According to Police, over 70 line rooms went under the rubble in one of the most damaging landslides in the natural disaster prone Badulla District. As this was being written, nine bodies had so far been recovered from under the mounds of mud and rubble.
The landslide occurred at around 7.45 am, triggered by continuous torrential rains. The first batch of 15 officers and 214 soldiers were promptly dispatched to the location by 8.30 am followed by another batch of 300 soldiers taking into account the vastness of the affected area. Together with the soldiers, Sri Lanka Air Force personnel, policemen, health teams and civil relief teams were working round the clock to pull out those trapped under the debris.
Army Commander Lt. General Daya Ratnayake immediately instructed Major General Mano Perera, Commander, Special Forces Head Quarters, Major General Wasantha Wickramasooriya, Chief Field Engineer as well as other Brigade Commanders to release Army machinery, bulldozers and backhoes to the affected area together with additional troops for relief work.
According to Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, line rooms, boutiques, seven government buildings and a Kovil were damaged in the landslide.
According to Police, most of the inmates of the line rooms were indoors due to the rain. Around 300 residents in 70 line rooms were believed to have been trapped under the muddy earth and mounds of rubble. Rescue teams were busy trying to pull out the trapped victims from the debris. They were hampered due to the mud and bad weather conditions.
There was a further threat of another landslide in the area. However, there were fears that around 250 people were trapped under the huge mounds of muddy earth.
National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) sources state that this area was previously identified as a landslide prone area and rescue operations should be carried out with extreme caution.
A Disaster Management Centre (DMC) officer said that rescue operations are underway with the help of the Army and Police. The DMC said an area of around two kilometres had been affected by the landslide.
Troops with the help of other agencies have already moved sections of displaced people into two common halls in the Koslanda area and the Army was busy preparing meals and other requirements of those affected people at the time this report was filed.
Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told joint rescue missions were underway with the coordination of Army, Police and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC).
The Minister said all possible measures have been taken through the DMC to control the situation, adding that the estate managements have already extended their support in this regard.
He said the assistance of the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) has been sought to mitigate landslide risks in other nearby estates.
Samarasinghe said the NBRO possesses scientific data about landslide vulnerable areas, adding that the Secretary of his Ministry has already spoken to the Secretary of Disaster Management Ministry to take all urgent measures.
He said under the direction of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Livestock and Rural Community Development Minister Arumugan Thondaman had already arrived at to the affected area to provide the necessary political leadership to manage the disaster situation.
Meanwhile, Badulla District Secretary Rohana Dissanayake told that the Grama Seva Officier of the affected Koslanda-Meeriyabedde village had asked the people to move away from the area on Monday sensing the imminent danger at the village. Some have responded immediately by moving out while others stayed behind. The area has been marked as a landslide danger prone area from 2005.
Constructions, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa while expressing grief and condolence to the families affected by the landslide disaster told his Ministry would intervene to provide houses to those who lost houses due to the disaster under Jana Sevena Housing Program. The Government has decided to provide Rs.15, 000 in respect of each person that died owing to the disaster. Several schools in the area have been closed until further notice.