Mon, Apr 17, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Hopes fade in Colombo dump collapse

FRIDAY NIGHT DISASTER:The prime minister said that the government had been planning to move the garbage dump, which receives 800 tonnes of trash per day

AFP, COLOMBO

Military, fire department and police rescuers yesterday work at the site of a collapsed garbage dump that buried scores of houses on Friday in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Photo: Reuters

Hopes of finding anyone alive under a collapsed mountain of garbage in Sri Lanka’s capital faded yesterday as the death toll reached 23 with another six reported missing, police said.

Hundreds of soldiers, backed by heavy earth moving equipment, were digging through the rubbish and the wreckage of about 145 homes that were destroyed when a side of the 90m high dump crashed on Friday.

“The rescue is fast becoming a recovery operation,” a senior police official at the site said. “It is difficult to imagine anyone could survive under these toxic conditions.”

He said six people were reported missing after Friday’s disaster at Kolonnawa on the northeastern edge of the capital.

However, activists said as many as 20 could still be buried underneath the debris.

Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe, who is heading the rescue efforts, said authorities were struggling to determine exactly how many people were trapped under the debris due to a lack of information from the residents.

Lawyer and activist Nuwan Bopage, who had worked with local residents in their protests to have the garbage dump removed, said about 20 people were buried under the debris.

The Colombo National hospital said that four children aged between 11 and 15 were among the 23 people reported killed.

Hospital spokeswoman Pushpa Soysa said a man and a woman pulled out of the dump on Friday were in intensive care while another 11 were also still in hospital.

Police have stepped up security in the area following reports of looting and said they arrested 18 men suspected of stealing victims’ belongings.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena ordered hundreds of troops to search for survivors and bolster rescue efforts of the fire department.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is visiting Japan, said arrangements had been made to remove the garbage dump, but it came crashing down before relocation work could begin.

Wickremesinghe said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered help with the recovery effort and a technical team would be sent to Sri Lanka to evaluate the situation.

Police the homes were destroyed when the garbage mountain came crashing down following heavy rain the previous day and a fire hours earlier.

More than 600 people have been given temporary shelter at a government-run school in the area as authorities looked for alternative accommodation for those living near the dump.

Many residents had evacuated their homes before the disaster because of the heavy rain.

The site has been used to dump Colombo’s garbage for the past few years as authorities sought to give the capital a face-lift. About 800 tonnes of solid waste is added per day to the open dump.

However, residents living in tiny homes in the area have protested against all the waste being dumped there because of health hazards.

Sri Lanka’s parliament was warned recently that the 23 million tonnes of garbage rotting at Kolonnawa was a serious health hazard.

Additional reporting by AP

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