KOSLANDA, Sri Lanka – A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers’ houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 250 missing, an official said.
The military mobilized troops to help with the rescue operation as rain continued to fall in the island nation’s central hills. Mud covered some of the destroyed homes to their roofs, and water gushing down hillsides indicated more slides were possible.
P. Arumugam, who works as a driver on the plantation, said he rushed there when he heard about the mudslide.
“Everything that I saw yesterday I could not see today – buildings, the temple and shops had all disappeared. I could only see mud everywhere,” he said.
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The mudslide struck at around 7:30 a.m. and wiped out 120 workers’ homes at the Koslanda tea plantation, said Lal Sarath Kumara, an official from the Disaster Management Center. The plantation is in the town of Koslanda in Badulla district about 220 kilometers (140 miles) east of Colombo.
By early afternoon, rescue workers had recovered 10 bodies that had been buried by the mudslide, Kumara said. More than 250 other people were missing, he said, a figure calculated after information was gathered from residents and relatives.
Marimuttu Navaneethan, a 28-year-old shopkeeper, said he heard a big noise and saw mud rolling down toward his home.
He and his family ran from the house, which was soon mostly covered by the mudslide. He said 65 other nearby houses were completely covered.
“A midwife was living in one house with six family members, and now all are missing except her husband. Their house was pushed down 200 meters and stopped near our home and their mango tree is now on our roof,” he said.
State broadcaster Rupavahini showed huge mounds of earth covering the houses and muddy water still gushing from the hilltops.
About 500 military personnel and civilians searched for survivors with the help of heavy earthmoving equipment, according to a local journalist at the scene. The search was later called off for the night because of rain and muddy conditions, military spokesman Brig. Jayanath Jayawerera said.
Most of Sri Lanka has experienced heavy rain over the past few weeks, and the Disaster Management Center had issued warnings of mudslides and falling rocks.
The monsoon season in the Indian Ocean island nation runs from October through December.
Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, is one of the world’s leading producers of tea. Most Ceylon tea, as it is known, is produced in the central hills, where the high altitudes and rainfall provide favorable conditions.