Sri Lanka

13 killed & over one million displaced; Sri Lanka's woes with the weather continues on a deadly trail

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By Mahieash Johnney & Zafran Packeerally of IFRC reporting from Matale, Central Sri Lanka.

The weather is bad. It was raining hard and Sugath Thaksala, a famer in Matale, Central Sri Lanka, warned his family to get inside the house. The rain continued for about half an hour suddenly Sugath heard his wife screaming "the walls are cracking".

Sugath sprang into action, did not wait to confirm anything he first grabbed his two sons and a daughter and jumped out of the house and got them to safety in a nearby shed. No sooner he ran back to get his wife, who was reluctant and aghast as to what was happening to the house they lived for over 20 years.

It didn't take long, amidst the heavy rains and the strong winds the walls collapsed and in their very own eyes their little home, came tumbling down.

"It was really tragic, we are not rich people. All what we earned we put to build our house as we have kids who we need to support in the future. They need a roof on top of their heads. I am 47 years old. I can't imagine starting over again."

As soon as this tragedy came to the attention of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society's (SLRCS) Matale branch, the Branch Executive Officer immediately took steps to send in volunteers to the filed, especially to the house of Sugath in order to assist them.

"This is the first time I'm witnessing a situation like this in this area. This has never happened before. The main reason for walls to collapse is because water seems to seep in underneath destroying the structure, soon afterwards the walls collapse. This is a serious situation" says the Ruwan Rathnayake, the Branch Executive Officer of the Matale Branch.

Current Situation

The situation in the Eastern, North and North Central Provinces of Sri Lanka continues to be serious with more monsoon rains battering the region for over 3 weeks. Floods are wide spread which has deluged roads, agricultural lands and city towns.

The accumulation of the rains that began in December still continues 3 months on displacing over a million for a second time. Many areas are inaccessible and thus the much needed relief efforts are slow to reach these areas. The context of damage and situation is still unknown.

Currently Sugath and his family is taking refuge at the nearby temple where the SLRCS has set up a relief camp.

On 5th of February, Polonnaruwa received the heaviest rainfall (232.4 mm), followed by Trincomalee (156.1 mm), Vavuniya (132.2 mm), Anuradhapura (114.4 mm), Batticaloa (84.7 mm) districts, while on the previous day Batticaloa District received the heaviest rainfall (187.9 mm), followed by Trincomalee (161.4 mm), Polonnaruwa (151.9 mm) and Ampara (104.1 mm) districts.

Several areas of Mannar District have been flooded due to overflow of Giant Tank. Kilinochchi is receiving heavy rains, according to the field reports.

Tank burst

More than 400 families were displaced in Dutuwewa, after a dam in Kiwulkadawela tank in Polonnaruwa burst unleashing 55,000 cubic acres of water to the nearby area.

Coconut trees in the area were reportedly uprooted by the forceful water gushing from the broken dam.

The displaced families are being housed in a temple nearby awaiting assistance from officials

More to be done

By the 6th of February 2010 over one million persons have been affected, a total of 236,953 persons (63,594 families) have been displaced in 653 temporary evacuation centers in 11 districts across the island.

There are 13 deaths and 3 missing are reported. Moreover, there are 914 houses were fully damaged and 6,868 hoses were partially damaged.

"We are closely monitoring the situation unfolding here in Sri Lanka and are taking adequate steps in order to help the vulnerable. We have been supporting the SLRCS to strengthen their response to the disaster" said Bob McKerrow Head of Delegation for the IFRC in Sri Lanka.

Furthermore he said that more needs to be done. " I find it frustrating sitting in Colombo, having visited the flood affected areas twice when 1 million people were affected, and now we have had severe rains for at least 48 hours and many of the initially affected, are hit again. Add to that, support from our traditional partners are poor" it makes the work of the SLRCS difficult as we need more funds for urgent local purchases."

Meanwhile SLRCS branches in Ampara, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa, Matale and Trincomalee are distributing nonfood relief items such as sarongs, sarees, mosquito nets, bed sheets, sleeping mats, kaftans, tarpaulins and safe drinking water for the affected people.

Director General of SLRCS Tissa Abeywickrama says "It's quite crucial that we provide these items to these people so that they would not become vulnerable to other diseases that would come up soon after a flood situation like this".

Furthermore the Director General of commended the work of over 3000 volunteers deployed in various parts of the country who's tremendous efforts in helping the vulnerable has been key in SLRCS response.

IFRC President visit the region

Meanwhile the President of the world largest humanitarian organization Mr. Tadateru Konoé was also in Sri Lanka in latter January to look into the flood relief operations in Sri Lanka.

He toured Polonnaruwa and Kilinochchi areas to look into the devastation caused by the natural disaster and to commend the work by the volunteers of Sri Lanka. His visit to the region was on the backdrop of an appeal for 4.62 million CHF launched by the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

In Polonnaruwa speaking to the media the President said "I am quite saddened by the devastation caused by the natural disaster here in Sri Lanka. I tell to the survivors, don't loose hope, we are there for you and we will continue to bring in the much needed support"

Furthermore the President held discussions with the President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakse, Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapakse to discuss further relief efforts to the country by the IFRC.