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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May 2003, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Boats needed for Sri Lanka flood victims
A Buddhist monk salvages a Buddha statue from a temple in the district of Matara
People are trying to salvage whatever they can
The Sri Lankan Government says it desperately needs boats to transport drinking water and food to people cut off by devastating floods.

More than 240 people are now known to have died in the south of the country and at least 150,000 families have been displaced in Sri Lanka's worst floods in 50 years.

A number of countries have pledged money to the relief effort.

And Indian military personnel are working alongside the Sri Lankan armed forces to help the stranded.

Indian navy divers have been searching for bodies while Sri Lankan air force helicopters are dropping food and supplies to the victims.

The flood waters are receding and if there is no more rain the risks are abated
Brenda Barrett, UNHCR

The BBC's Frances Harrison, who has been to the area, says flood waters have begun to recede in the worst affected district, Ratnapura, leaving a huge trail of destruction.

But further south, large areas are still under water.

People need food. Many have lost their homes and their crops as well.

Roads and bridges have been swept away, trees uprooted, and power cables destroyed.

Power has been switched off in Ratnapura to stop people being electrocuted, one e-mail to BBC News Online said.

Rescue effort

A government statement said police were searching for more boats to transport water and food to the flood victims, the AFP news agency reports.

Rescue workers are trying to move villagers to relief camps set up on dry land.

Air force helicopters dropped food parcels and water to thousands of people in 300 villages in Ratnapura, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south-east of the capital, Colombo.

I was sinking and sinking, covered with mud and silt
Ranjith Gamini
Survivor

Two Indian military transport aircraft were due in Colombo on Tuesday with 100 army medical personnel, 20 doctors and medical supplies.

Officials are particularly concerned about the possible spread of diseases such as cholera.

"The flood waters are receding and if there is no more rain the risks are abated, but not completely," Brenda Barrett of the UN High Commission for Refugees said.

The full extent of damage and numbers of those missing are still not clear.

"We can't assess the situation fully because some places are still not reachable," Social Welfare Minister Ravindra Samaraweera said.

Foreign aid

Australia, Norway and the UK pledged money to the relief effort on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe said.

FOREIGN DONATIONS
Norway: $1m
UK: $365,000
Australia: 65,000
US: $50,000

"My government is deeply saddened by the loss of life and by the plight of thousands of displaced families in flooded areas," US Ambassador Ashley Willis said.

Norway has already given Sri Lanka $1m in aid and an Indian ship carrying inflatable boats and rescue equipment is docked in Colombo.

On Monday, the Red Cross appealed for help from abroad and inside the country saying the floods have destroyed houses, blocked roads and submerged power lines.

Sri Lankan MPs cut short a parliamentary session to head back to their constituencies to help with the situation.

Map

It is thought landslides may have blocked one of the rivers in the area, exacerbating severe flooding in Ratnapura.

One survivor, Ranjith Gamini, said he was walking home from a Buddhist temple when he felt things "moving beneath his feet".

"After few seconds I realised that something was very wrong," he told AP.

"I was sinking and sinking, covered with mud and silt."

He was eventually found by rescuers and taken to hospital.

Are you in Sri Lanka? Are the floods in your area?

Your comments:


I was down in the area last Saturday and left just before it all came down. Was informed that in Ratnapura, there is game park with crocodiles; if true there must be danger of an expanded feeding ground for them. Also local snakes will be competing for dry land. Journey from Galle to Colombo was unpleasant for the first 40 kilometres as the rain was coming down like a sheet and the coastal road was a bit hairy.
Dave Carnegie, UK

I initially thought that the drizzle was a timely bliss, but as the darkness appeared it turned to a continuous rain. The rain was just pouring throughout the day for more than four days. The wind was so stubborn, that the rain comes horizontally. That kept me awake many nights with fear of falling coconut trees onto our roof.
Kithsiri Jayakody, Sri Lanka

I talked to my aunt in Ratnapura over the phone. She said telephones are the only service that functions normally. According to her there is no electricity since the power supply has been cut off to prevent people from getting electrocuted. The whole town is underwater and getting food is a grave concern for the people in Ratnapura area.

If the floodwater does not subside soon and the relief does not get to them quickly many people in Ratnapura face starvation. If there is anything that anyone can do to help the people affected by floods in Sri Lanka, please do so ASAP.
Sebastian Alexander, Toronto, Canada

Now the rain has stopped but the flood in the southern districts of Galle, Matara and Kaluthara is more threatening. One village in the Rathanapura was completely destroyed due to a landslide and about 74 houses were buried under the thick mud layer of 30 feet deep. On Monday there reported another land slide in Matara district, killing about 35 people. People have contributed largely to this problem by neglecting the natural environment.
Kamal, Sri Lanka

The forest cover that was cleared by the colonial rulers in the 19th and early 20th century to make way for tea plantations is the root cause for the mudslides that plague this region of the country. In addition to that, there is too much illegal mining (for precious stones) that takes place in that part of the country, which gets "un-noticed" for reasons we are too familiar with. Think it's time someone took action to help solve the problem of flash floods once and for all.
Sanjaya B, Sri Lanka/US

The rains have been horrendous. We have had very big storms for over a week. We are told the water in a friend's house in Matara was last evening ten feet high and eighteen feet was expected. Rumours of twenty eight feet of water are in Tangalla. Our electricity has been fitful but the authorities are doing the best they can under the circumstances.
Hazel and Graham Gallagher, Sri Lanka




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The BBC's Frances Harrison
"These are the worst floods in Sri Lanka for half a century"



SEE ALSO
In pictures: Sri Lanka floods
19 May 03 |  Photo Gallery
Country profile: Sri Lanka
10 May 03 |  Country profiles

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