Rescue workers in Sri Lanka are digging through heavy piles of mud and debris in an effort to find victims after torrential rains triggered flooding that sent massive landslides crashing down on homes in three villages, leaving at least 37 people dead. Dozens of people are reported missing and feared buried alive.
President Maithripala Sirisena Wednesday toured an area devastated by the severe weather and said, "The loss is devastating" in a message posted on Twitter. Sri Lanka's meteorological department said the heavy rains were caused by a depression in the Bay of Bengal but were expected to subside.
The Sri Lankan Red Cross said in a statement posted online that two teams were dispatched early in the day alongside government authorities and had since rescued 180 people, despite power outages in the villages of Siripura, Pallebage and Elagipitya in the Aranayake area, located in Kegalle district.
The president ordered troops to help evacuate people living in flood-hit areas or on slopes. The country’s navy and air force were called to help with relief operations with approximately 266 troops deployed in Kegalle, the worst-affected district.
Police said many residents fled farming areas before the landslides hit. Reports say more than 350,000 people have been affected by the weather-related disaster with 223,000 people taking shelter in state-run welfare centers.
The rains have caused flooding in cities including the capital, Colombo. Schools nationwide were closed Wednesday due to the bad weather.
Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Center reported that over the past few days, 11 people have been killed in electrocutions and smaller landslides.
An elderly Sri Lankan woman is pulled on a makeshift raft at a flooded area in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 17, 2016.