At least 40 dead as monsoon lashes Sri Lanka, over 100 houses destroyed

COLOMBO (AFP) - Naval boats and helicopters scoured seas off Sri Lanka on Monday for dozens of missing fishermen, as the death toll from strong monsoon rains and winds rose to 40, an official said.

The dead fishermen were listed as missing since the monsoon hit the island early on Saturday, destroying more than 100 houses, according to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

"We continue to look for missing people," DMC spokesman Sarath Lal Kumara said. "The navy and the airforce are leading the search and rescue operations."

The death toll rose from 27 to 40, DMC figures show. Another 29 people were hurt in the storm.

All but one of the dead were fishermen, and Sri Lanka's navy and the air force have rescued about 15 other fishermen.

More than 100 houses have been completely destroyed and another 2,185 partially damaged due to strong winds.

The weather has improved since Sunday, the department of meteorology said.

The country's meteorology department has come under heavy criticism for failing to warn the fishermen of the severity of the storm.

The monsoon hits the country twice a year bringing much-needed rain, but also frequently causing loss of life and damage to property.

Seven people were killed in the country last month when a tropical cyclone brushed the eastern coast.

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