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500,000 flee homes as Sri Lanka flood misery worsens

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan residents wait at a relief camp after being evacuated following flooding in the Kolonnawa suburb yesterday. — AFP
COLOMBO: Sri Lankan residents wait at a relief camp after being evacuated following flooding in the Kolonnawa suburb yesterday. — AFP

COLOMBO: Desperate Sri Lankans clambered onto rubber dinghies and makeshift rafts yesterday to escape monster floods in the capital Colombo as officials said half a million people had fled their homes across the island. The heaviest rains in a quarter of a century have pounded Sri Lanka since last weekend, triggering huge landslides that have buried some victims in up to 50 feet (15 meters) of mud. More than 60 people known to have died so far amid fears that number could spike with many more reported missing. President Maithripala Sirisena urged people to provide shelter and donate cash or food as offers of assistance came in from overseas. “We have already got some assistance from our friends in the international community,” he said in a televised address.

“Now I want to ask private individuals, companies and non-governmental organizations to help in any way you can to help the victims.” The national Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said 21 of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts had been affected. Around 300,000 people had been moved to safe shelters while a further 200,000 were staying with friends or family. “Our information is that about half a million people have been driven out of their homes,” Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake told reporters.

“The (state-owned) Insurance Corporation alone received claims against flooded cars and home appliances amounting to 1.1 billion rupees ($7.5 million). The actual loss is much, much more.” Diluka Ishani, who was being looked after at a school where the military provided meals and bedding, described how her family managed to escape the floods but had lost virtually everything. “We started moving to higher ground as the water level went up and then we found we had no other place to go to,” the mother-of-two told AFP in Colombo’s Kolonnawa suburb.

Her family had first fled to higher ground near their home but became marooned and had to be plucked to safety on a small navy boat. “The navy saved our lives, but we lost all our belongings. The house is ruined as the water went above our roof.” — AFP

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