Rescuers called up from the military continued to dig through heaps of mud and trash that collapsed onto a clutch of homes near a garbage dump outside Sri Lanka’s capital, killing at least 30 people and possibly burying dozens more.
When they first arrived at the site, hours late, they dug through with bare hands. There were no heavy earth-moving equipment, or other rescue gear. They did not have enough stretchers, body bags, helmets or lamps.
Meanwhile, in emotional press briefings, activists who had warned the regime of Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena, months ago that a tragedy was unavoidable and that the capital Colombo’s garbage should not be piled up at the site, demanded that both politicians face murder charges.
Wickremesinghe, who was away in Vietnam, said in a statement, the tragedy was ‘unexpected”. Activists had warned him and his officials of a potential tragedy on several occasions and they say he had promised at a meeting that the garbage mountain issue will be solved in six months.
The Wickremesinghe-Sirisena regime, its lawmakers and its political appointees in the Colombo Municipal Council have also been accused of profiting from corruption in the garbage business. Goons suspected to be members of the ruling parties have also assaulted activists who have tried to prevent a human tragedy.
One elderly activist also lost his wife and other members of his family.
Hundreds of people had been living in the working-class neighborhood on the fringe of the 10-story high garbage dump in Meetotamulla, a town near Colombo, when a mound collapsed Friday afternoon during a celebration for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, buriying dozens and damaging at least 150 homes.
Soldiers were digging with backhoes and shovels, as relatives of the missing pointed out where their houses once stood amid coconut, mango and banana trees.
Those homes now lay in piles of collapsed concrete walls encased in a wall of mud up to 8 meters high and mixed with plastic bags, broken glass and other trash. Bicycles and auto-rickshaws, the three-wheeled vehicles used as local taxis, were crushed or lying topsy-turvy. (AP/The Standard)