A huge garbage dump collapsed on homes in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, killing at 26 people with many others missing, officials said Sunday.
After flooding and a fire, the 300-foot high pile of rotting debris collapsed around 2:30 p.m. Friday, witnesses said, and at least 100 homes were ripped from their foundations and crashed into neighboring homes.
President Maithripala Sirisena ordered several hundred troops to assist the fire department in searching for survivors. Spokesman Brig Roshan Senaviratne told the BBC “we could complete this in the next 72 hours.”
Some homes moved 30 yards away from their original location, with some landing on roofs of other houses, said Priyantha Jayakody, deputy inspector general of police.
“We heard something that sounded vaguely like rocks being unloaded from a dump truck,” said Sukarnika Rajapaksa, 52, to The New York Times. “People were shouting, screaming, ‘Run, run!’ I stepped out to take a look, and I saw one of the nearby houses coming our way amidst a cloud of smoke.”
She watched the trash approach and a red-painted house move toward her that ultimately forced the home she was in to be submerged.
Sugath Dammika, a laborer, was buried by waste at his sister-in-law’s house. His wife was at a government morgue, identifying the body of their elder son. A younger son remains missing.
“They say he’s still buried,” Dammika said. “We’ve been looking everywhere. There was no one to help.”
For years, residents had demanded the removal of the dump because of health problems.
“It’s very unfortunate that no-one listened to us. Now, after so many deaths, politicians are saying they will stop dumping garbage. These are murders, we will take legal action,” resident Nuwan Bopage told the BBC.
Officials said the rubbish would be placed in two other sites because of the closure of the Meethotamulla dump.
Harsha de Silva, Sri Lanka’s deputy foreign minister, described the collapse as the culmination of “a problem running for decades, perhaps as long as 20 years.”
The collapse occurred during Aluth Avurudda, or the Sinhalese New Year, a major public holiday across Sri Lanka.
By Allen Cone