An estimated 100 people are still listed as missing, according to the national Disaster Management Centre (DMC), two days after dozens of tin-roofed homes were buried under tonnes of mud at the Meeriyabedda tea estate, 200km east of the capital.
Military officers supervising the massive rescue operation said only a handful of bodies had been found and there was scant hope of finding anyone alive.
Survivors have recounted how drinking water streams turned muddy, cracks appeared in the ground and cattle and goats started running down the mountain slope just before tragedy struck.
“I shouted to our parents to hurry… I saw my mother close the front door and at that moment, a huge mound of earth crashed onto our house,” Gajani Ravichandra, 14, said.
“It all happened right in front of our eyes. All I could do was scream and scream,” she said at a temporary shelter.
Her parents perished but her grandparents and brother survived.
Gajani’s brother Suresh Kumar, 12, said he saw an unusual sight of cattle and goats running down a slope just before the landslide.
A six-year-old girl was lost in the mudslide as she walked to school with her older brother who narrowly escaped, officials said, adding around 85 students were among 227 people who escaped the mudslide.
Some people lost entire families. One driver recounted how his wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and a six-month-old baby girl had been swallowed by the mud.
The region’s top military officer, Major General Mano Perera, who is supervising the recovery efforts, said sniffer dogs had indicated several sites where people might be buried.
“In some places, we will have to dig 6-9m to remove the new layer of soil,” Perera said.
“Rains and soggy conditions are impeding our progress, but we will keep this recovery effort going,” he said. (AFP)