Boats deliver aid, pick up sick in flooded Sri Lanka capital

AP News
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Posted: May 20, 2016 8:52 AM
Boats deliver aid, pick up sick in flooded Sri Lanka capital

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Hundreds of small boats navigated deep floodwaters that have inundated thousands of homes in the Sri Lankan capital to deliver aid and rescue the elderly and sick from rooftops, as forecasters warned Friday of more heavy rain.

Some stranded residents wading through shoulder-deep water in Colombo waved frantically at a passing army boat for help, pleading to be taken to dry ground.

"We have only the clothing that we are wearing," said Eranda Dias, a 27-year-old mechanic who escaped with his mother and wife as brackish water filled their home in the city's outskirts.

"We did not know what to do," he said as soldiers pulled him up into the boat, explaining that the water had been a half-meter (1 1/2 feet) high most of the week and then suddenly rose. His mother, a retired teacher, worried about how she would receive her monthly pension now that her documents were lost.

The weeklong rains have caused chaos across Sri Lanka, unleashing deadly landslides and driving tens of thousands from their homes.

Since Monday, at least 68 people have died from lightning strikes, drowning, falling trees and landslides triggered by the rains, according to official updates. That includes at least 35 confirmed victims of mudslides that swallowed up three hillside villages in the central district of Kegalle, where hundreds were still missing.

Soldiers resumed searching for the missing Friday, but held little hope of finding survivors. They recovered four bodies and parts of another during the day, said Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, who is coordinating relief efforts.

The island was unlikely to get a reprieve soon, with the meteorological department warning Friday that rains and stormy seas were expected to continue through the day, especially in the southwest.

Schools were closed across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from homes across the island to some 594 shelters.

In the capital, more than 185,000 have been displaced, including tens of thousands taken to temporary shelters. Others were camping on rooftops and the top floors of buildings. Electricity has been cut in flooded areas to prevent electrocutions.

Some people fashioned floating devices from old car tires or plastic tubes, which they used to move food, water and other supplies. In some places, people wading in the water fought strong currents to stay upright.

"We fear the situation might get worse," said 28-year-old housewife Chanuka Perera, who was rescued along with her feverish infant son by an army boat. She was eager to "get to a safe place and get medical treatment for the child."

The navy said it was sending two ships with aid to Colombo. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said there was an urgent need for water purification tablets, water pumps and drinking water.

Heart patient S. Wimalasiri wondered how he would get his medicine after losing his written prescription. "What is there to do? That is life," he said.