COLOMBO • Sri Lankan soldiers dug through rubbish with their bare hands yesterday looking for survivors after a huge garbage mountain collapsed, destroying 145 homes and killing at least 19 people.
Four children were among the dead following Friday's incident in Kolonnawa on the north-eastern edge of the capital Colombo, national hospital spokesman Pushpa Soysa said.
The 91m-high dump came crashing down on neighbouring homes as the country marked the traditional new year.
"We remain on standby, some people who were pulled out of wrecked homes were brought in overnight," Ms Soysa said.
"Five of them have succumbed to their injuries."
Hundreds of troops dug through tonnes of rubbish looking for survivors, while two heavy earth-moving machines were also deployed.
The police said a total of 145 homes, mostly shacks, were destroyed when a side of the garbage mountain came crashing down on Friday following heavy rain the previous day and a fire hours earlier.
They said 625 people were given temporary shelter at a government-run school as the authorities looked for alternative accommodation for those living near the dump.
Many residents had evacuated their homes before the disaster because of the heavy rain.
"The casualties would have been much higher if most people had not left their homes earlier in the day," a disaster management official told reporters at the site.
About 800 tonnes of solid waste is added daily to the open dump, angering residents who live nearby.
Sri Lanka's Parliament was warned recently that the 23 million tonnes of garbage rotting at Kolonnawa was a serious health hazard.
Efforts are under way to build an electricity plant that could transform the solid waste into fuel.