Dozens still missing in Sri Lankan garbage collapse; 29 dead

Dozens still missing in Sri Lankan garbage collapse; 29 dead

MEETOTAMULLA, Sri Lanka — Rescuers on Monday were digging through heaps of mud and trash that collapsed onto a clutch of homes near a garbage dump outside Sri Lanka’s capital, killing at least 29 people and possibly burying dozens more.

Hundreds of people had been living in the working-class neighbourhood on the fringe of the towering dump in Meetotamulla, a town near Colombo, when a huge mound collapsed Friday night during a celebration for the local new year, damaging at least 150 homes.

By Monday morning, authorities had pulled 29 bodies from beneath the debris, according to lawyer Nuwan Bopage, who has worked with local residents to protest the dump. Authorities were unsure how many more people could still be trapped, but about 30 were reported missing, Bopage said.

Soldiers were digging with backhoes and shovels, as relatives of the missing pointed out where their houses once stood amid coconut, mango and banana trees. Those homes now lay in piles of collapsed concrete walls encased in a wall of mud up to 8 metres (25 feet) high and mixed with plastic bags, broken glass and other trash. Bicycles and auto-rickshaws, the three-wheeled vehicles used as local taxis, were crushed or lying topsy-turvy.

More than 600 of the area’s residents were sheltering in nearby schools, while 11 people were being treated at a hospital for injuries.

One auto-rickshaw driver described a narrow escape. He was returning home with his wife, two sons and daughter when they stepped out from his rickshaw and his daughter said the ground seemed to be moving beneath her feet.

“There was a strong wind from the side of the dump, and my daughter shouted that the mound is splitting,” Rasika Sanjeewa, 41, said Monday. “Suddenly, one slice of the mound came crashing down. The whole area was shaking.”

Debris blocked them from fleeing immediately, but eventually they found a way out, Sanjeewa said. When they arrived later at their friends’ home, where they had planned to celebrate the new year, they found it buried and their friends dead — a mother and daughter who worked as daily wage labourers.

The prime minister vowed over the weekend to shut down the dump, which has absorbed much of Colombo’s garbage over several years amid heavy construction and renovations in the capital. As the garbage piled up, it began threatening the nearby homes, prompting residents to stage regular protests while complaining of health hazards.

“These people did not choose to live next to a dump. But they brought the garbage in and made this place horrible,” said rickshaw driver Dilip Mirmal, 34, whose home was spared while those surrounding were completely subsumed. He counted 23 of his neighbours among the dead.

“This is a government-made disaster,” he said. “I have a mix of feelings — of anger, frustration and sorrow. We have been trying to protest and raise these issues, but no one was listening.”

Eranga Jayawardena, The Associated Press

Just Posted

VIDEO: Rubbing shoulders with country stars a dream for aspiring young Langley singer

One day soon, maybe, 10-year-old Mackenzie Hurtubise will sing at the Basics for Babies fundraiser.

Giants back in Langley hoping to continue winning streak

The G-Men defeated Royals in Victoria Saturday, the second triumph of the week over the same team.

PHOTOS: Langley City parents given relief from holiday chaos

A Timms Community Centre event Saturday offered a variety of activities for young children.

Langley’s assistant lacrosse captain tallies up five goals in Calgary loss

Stealth fell to Roughnecks, but hoping for comeback on Dec. 29 in New England.

LETTER: Not too late to protect the character of Brookswood

With election year coming, a letter writer suggests council be held accountable for re-development.

VIDEO: Recovering addict shares art and story to motivate others

A Langley City man spends time each day painting in McBurney Plaza.

Update: RCMP arrest domestic assault suspect west of Kamloops.

The RCMP Emergency Response Team made the arrest at around 4:30 p.m.

Owl found dead after eating rat poison leaves B.C. woman concerned

After finding the owl on her Surrey property, Christine Trozzo says the poison is a concern for kids

Change to CPP death benefit panned as insufficient to cover funeral costs

Funeral Services Association of Canada lobbied governments to raise the value to $3,580

B.C. woman brain injured in crash as a baby gets $1.1 million in damages

Trial heard the woman was 16 months old, being carried by her mother when they were both hit

Family Christmas fun at Aldergrove’s Loft Country farm

The Loft Country children’s horse camp in Aldergrove is celebrating Christmas in a new way this year

Court denies WestJet’s bid to toss out discrimination lawsuit of former worker

Mandalena Lewis is suing WestJet over allegations of gender-based discrimination

VIDEO: 3 months later, rescued sea lion released back into ocean

The young animal was found in Campbell River three months ago

Sagmoen neighbours recall alleged hammer attack

Woman was screaming outside Maple Ridge townhouse in 2013

Most Read