Floods kill 200 in Sri Lanka

from World Vision
Published on 20 May 2003
Flash floods and torrential rains hit three provinces of Sri Lanka over the weekend, killing at least 200 people. Over 85,000 families have been rendered homeless and thousands marooned in the floods, the worst the country has experience since 1947.
On May 13, a cyclone hit the country, blowing roofs off houses, uprooting trees and leaving some streets in the capital Colombo under three feet of water. Since then it has been raining heavily in central and southern parts of the country, due to a tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal.

Ratnapura, Matara, Hambantota, Kalutara and Galle are among the districts affected by the floods. The worst affected area is Ratnapura district, situated about 100 km southeast of Colombo. Officials are worried about the lack of clean drinking water, and the possible onset of disease.

A World Vision assessment team is meeting with government this morning to determine where best to put its efforts. Two of World Vision's Area Development Projects (ADPs) have been moderately affected by the rains, but people in schools and shelters in the worst hit areas are running short of food, water and supplies.

The flash floods hit the country late Saturday, when most of the people had returned to their homes after celebrating a festival marking the birth of Lord Buddha.

Many people have been killed by landslides. Towns have been submerged, roads have been completely blocked, vehicles stuck, and many people are trapped in buildings. Thousands of houses have been damaged, a large number of them destroyed. In Ratnapura, the water levels have reached about 15 feet and the entire town has been submerged. The town of Katuwana in the Hambantota District is also completely under water. The raging flood waters destroyed power and communication lines, hampering rescue and relief efforts.

The airforce and navy have rushed to rescue people taking refuge on rooftops and elevated areas until help arrived. Airforce helicopters are working round the clock on rescue missions and distributing food to the victims. Navy craft were also deployed to rescue marooned people.

Encountering the worst downpour in 60 years, the government has geared itself for a massive relief effort and has appointed a four-member special Disaster Management Committee to deal with the situation. Meanwhile the Social Services Ministry has announced that the government had allocated Rs 60 million to provide relief to the flood victims.

The government will also seek assistance from India and international agencies for provisions and maybe air assistance, according to the minister for rehabilitation, resettlement and refugees. The Red Cross society has also made an appeal to foreign countries for help. India said it had dispatched a naval patrol craft with relief supplies and medical teams.

World Vision Lanka does not have any projects in the worst affected Ratnapura and Matara and Galle districts. However, World Vision does have an Area Development Project (ADP) in the affected Hambantota district, where the death toll is 22 and 200 families rendered homeless. Communication with the ADP office in the area has been severed due to the situation.

Parts of World Vision Lanka's Ambagamuwa ADP, situated in the Nuwara-Eliya district, were affected by landslides caused by the torrential rains. A total of 27 families were affected in the ADP area, including 19 children of whom 4 are sponsored children. World Vision has distributed dry rations adequate for 10 days and clothing among the affected, and temporary roofing sheets for 3 damaged houses, through the ADP.

World Vision Lanka will participate in a meeting organized by the Ministry of Social Services as well as a meeting organized by the Consortium for Humanitarian Agencies to plan relief initiatives for the flood victims today. Meanwhile, three World Vision Lanka teams have been dispatched in the early hours of today, to the worst affected Ratnapura, Matara and Galle districts for needs assessment.

World Vision Lanka has allocated US $10,000 for this emergency relief initiative, though there are no World Vision projects in the worst affected areas. Further, it is planned to initially assist 3,000 affected families with dry rations such as rice, dhal, sugar, flour, canned fish, tea etc.