COLOMBO • India joined Sri Lanka's relief operation yesterday as 230,000 people were driven from their homes after an intense monsoon deluge killed at least 103 people.
Rainfall on Friday triggered the worst flooding and landslides in 14 years in the southern and western parts of the island, authorities said.
The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said 103 people were confirmed killed, while another 113 were missing.
The military conducted search operations in landslide-hit areas and the airforce deployed five aircraft for rescue operations and another five to transport emergency supplies to villagers who could not be reached by road.
Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardena said that while the worst of the rain was over, there was a danger of fresh flooding downstream. He urged people living in low-lying areas to move to higher ground.
"There are several remote places which are still inaccessible," Mr Abeywardena told reporters in Colombo. "We have reports of places where neither helicopters nor boats can reach."
He said the government was air-dropping 10,000 life jackets for marooned people until they could be moved to safer ground. The government has set up 104 temporary shelters in public buildings to accomodate those driven out of their homes by flooding and landslides, he added.
An Indian naval ship equipped with medical supplies docked in Colombo yesterday and Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu said a second larger vessel was expected in Colombo tomorrow with more aid.
"When you feel the pain, we also feel the pain," the envoy said while formally handing over the Indian aid to Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake at the Colombo port.
The Indian aid included a medical team as well as inflatable boats and medicine. India has offered more aid, including helicopters, to boost the relief operations, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who returned from a state visit to Australia, rushed to Kalutara, just south of the capital Colombo, to supervise relief operations.
At the village of Bulathsinhala, relatives were seen loading coffins of 10 victims onto army armoured personnel carriers to transport them across flooded streets to high ground for burial. There were similar scenes in the adjoining Ratnapura district, the island's gem capital, which was also flooded.
The meterological department said they expected rains to subside, but the monsoon will remain active at a lower intensity.
"The monsoon has firmly established and we could have evening showers at a lesser intensity," meterological department chief S. R. Jayasekera said.
The flooding is the worst since May 2003, when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon, officials said. Monsoon rains last year caused flooding and landslides, killing just over 100 people. The DMC said the latest monsoon ended a prolonged drought that had threatened agriculture as well as hydropower generation.