Floods in Sri Lanka Displace Half a Million

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The government of Sri Lanka assessed the damage on Sunday from widespread flooding and devastating mudslides, as the death toll from the twin disasters rose and nearly half a million people were displaced from their homes.

The state-run Disaster Management Center on Sunday announced that 151 people had been killed and 112 others were missing. It said the flooding was the worst since torrential rain soaked the island nation in 2003. The authorities estimate that more than 1,800 homes have been damaged and 442,000 people have been affected.

Some towns were under 18 feet of water, and the Navy sent boats and armored vehicles to search for survivors. They moved around 2,000 residents to safer locations over the weekend.

The authorities have ordered residents to evacuate the banks of three major rivers — the Nilwala in the south, the Gin in the west and the Kelani, which runs through the capital, Colombo — fearing that they will overflow. Even though water levels were receding by Sunday night, disaster management officials were wary as more rain was expected in the southwestern parts of the island in the next few days.

In the village of Bulathsinhala in Kalutara District, one of the worst-affected areas, naval personnel brought the recovered bodies of the dead to families to identify them. Residents told local television networks that high waters were making rescue efforts too risky. An Air Force officer was killed when he fell out of a helicopter during a rescue operation in the southern district of Galle on Friday.

Yet Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, who is overseeing the Sri Lankan military’s rescue operations, said the worst danger had passed. “Floodwaters are receding,” he said, though “some areas are still inundated.”

Although many people were still missing after the floods and landslides, General Ranasinghe said he did not want to presume that all those who were unaccounted for were dead. Some may be in other safe locations, or could have been elsewhere when the floods hit.

An Indian naval ship arrived in Colombo on Saturday with medical teams and relief supplies. On Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had appealed to the United Nations and neighboring countries to help, especially with the search-and-rescue operations.

President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka, who toured the disaster-struck areas in Kalutara on Sunday, said on Twitter the previous day that the government would provide new houses to all those who had lost their homes. “I am shocked and saddened by this disaster that has claimed so many lives,” he said.