Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA: Three dead as floods affect 200,000

COLOMBO, 18 May 2010 (IRIN) - Heavy flooding across parts of western and southern Sri Lanka has affected almost 200,000 people, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) [] told IRIN.

At least three people are now confirmed dead, with three more missing.

"It is a very tough situation for us," Pradeep Kodippily, the DMC's assistant director, said in Colombo. "We are doing assessments. The water levels vary between affected districts."

For four days, heavy monsoon rains have resulted in flash floods, high winds, landslides, lightning and thunder storms in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Ratnapura, Kegalle and Galle.

The floods forced the government to cancel celebrations to mark the first anniversary of the army's victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE), which had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than two decades. [see:]

As of 18 May, 192,075 persons (44,775 families) had been affected by the heavy rains, Kodippily said, resulting in some minor displacement, as well as evacuations.

In Gampaha District, more than 1,200 families sought temporary shelter in schools and temples.

Several parts of the capital, Colombo, were inundated with knee-deep water, including areas between the suburbs of Moratuwa and Egodauayana, as well as Kirulapone, Kesbewa, Piliyandala and Nugegoda, he said.

"The water levels are high," Kodippily said, citing a lack of proper drainage, coupled with the illegal construction of homes along river banks. "This obstructed the smooth flow of rain water in the draining ditches," he said.

Relief efforts and response

According to Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, the government had initiated several relief initiatives to assist those affected.

"We are doing assessments to find long-term remedies for the flood situation," he said, noting that the government was using all its resources, including the navy, to coordinate its response.

"The navy is doing rescue missions with great effectiveness," he said.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has allocated close to US$9,000 for each divisional secretariat, the basic administrative unit within a district, in the affected area.

"This is just the initial amount. We are open to provide more funding as requirements occur," he said.

On 17 May, the Housing Development Authority announced it would help reconstruct homes destroyed by the rains. At least 18 houses are known to have been destroyed and 47 damaged.

Meanwhile, Surien Peries, head of operations for the Sri Lanka Red Cross [], said it was continuing to assist people in Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutara. "We are giving them food rations - and catering to their basic and immediate needs," he said.

"We have also deployed several boats in Gampaha where it is worst affected and conducted rescue operations."

Sri Lanka's Meteorological Department has forecast severe rains over the next 48 hours which may result in more people being affected. The usual monsoon season should begin on 20 May.