Red Cross responds as floods and landslides affect half a million people in Sri Lanka

Since the beginning of the week large areas of Sri Lanka have been deluged by torrential rains caused by a slow moving tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal which has brought Flash floods and landslides to 22 of the countries 26 districts.

An estimated 500,000 people have been directly affected with some places experiencing up to 300 mm of rainfall. According to the governments Disaster Management Centre, 43 people have been killed and close to 307,000 people displaced by the flooding. They are now being housed at 594 temporary camps across Sri Lanka.

Landslide in Aranayake

K. D. Piyasena lived in the village of Sirpura situated in Aranayake district secretariat, approximately 140kms away from the capital Colombo in the hills of Kegalle district.

Piiyasena lived in a modest house with his wife and three sons. He earned a small income from selling lottery tickets. Every day, his elder son who worked in a bank would buy 100 tickets for Piyasena to sell in the town.

“I got a call from my son on Tuesday evening asking me to come home. It wasn’t anything urgent, he just told me it was raining and I should come home,” said Piyasena.

“When I got home, there was a massive pile of dirt. I was confused. I didn’t know where I was. I honestly thought that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in this pile of dirt”.

It took several minutes for Piyasena to understand what had happened amidst the eerie silence surrounding him. His home and family had completely disappeared beneath a massive landslide.

At approximately 4.00 pm on Tuesday evening an entire side of the Siripura mountain collapsed into the valley below after receiving torrential rains for two consecutive days. The landslide buried three villages including Piyasenas.

“My entire life, my boys and my wife - they have left without me. I am heartbroken”, said Piyasena from a temporary camp where he is now being cared for by the Red Cross.

According to Government statistics, prior to the incident there were 220 families living in Siripura and the neighbouring villages of Pallebage and Elagipitiya. So far, search and rescue teams have retrieved only 19 bodies. Dozens remain missing.

Helping the survivors

As soon as the landslide occurred, Sri Lanka Red Cross Society's Kegalle Branch deployed its Disaster Response Team to Aranayake. Upon arriving they coordinated with the Government Authorities in search and rescue efforts and also in setting up temporary camps where they have been providing first aid, food and psychological support to the survivors of the landslide who made it to safety. Another team was also sent from Colombo to help. Now, Red Cross staff and volunteers are helping to manage nine temporary and are carrying out assessments in areas where people in the camps fled from.

Stranded by floodwaters

Red Cross volunteers and staff have also been responding to flash floods in others parts of Sri Lanka. In the capital, the Colombo branch has been providing cooked food and blankets, water bottles and other non-food relief items to over 800 families.

In Gampaha, which is one of the worst affected districts, Red Cross volunteers provided evacuation and first aid support to people stranded in Biyagama due to heavy flooding. Boats from the branch escorted people to safety where they were taken care of by volunteers.

According to the meteorological department of Sri Lanka more rains have been forecast in the next few weeks despite the current low pressure moving away from the island.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will be supporting ongoing relief efforts by the Sri Lanka Red Cross through its Disaster Response Emergency Fund.