Heavy rains, landslides kill five in Sri Lanka

Two men using a plastic sheet to protect themselves from heavy rains as they stand by the sea in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 17, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

COLOMBO (REUTERS) - Heavy monsoon rains in Sri Lanka have killed five people, prompting authorities to warn against landslides and floods in low-lying areas after spill gates had to be opened across the Indian Ocean island.

Lightning killed three people, a landslide a fourth, and the fifth death was the result of a fallen tree, said officials at the country's Disaster Management Centre.

The centre's spokesman, Pradeep Kodippili, said flooding has forced the evacuation of people in areas where several rivers are overflowing, while four districts are on "red alert" for possible landslides.

"People in those four districts have been cautioned to be vigilant," Kodippili told Reuters.

The army has sent more than 100 soldiers with more than 25 boats to tackle the emergency, its spokesman, Sumith Atapattu, told Reuters.

May kicks off the monsoon season in Sri Lanka's south, usually the region's wettest time of year, running until September. From November to February, the northwest monsoon also brings the island heavy rain.

Heavy rains and intermittent droughts have hit tea, the country's main export crop, which brings in earnings of more than US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion). Tea output rose last year for the first time in four years.

However, the weather this year has not been harsh enough to affect the stockmarket and companies, brokers said, although firms in the plantation industry could be hit.

Growth in Sri Lanka hit a 16-year low of 3.1 per cent in 2017, mainly due to a flood that killed more than 100 people and a lengthy drought in some areas.

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