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Sri Lankan poor protested garbage dump before disaster

Hopes of finding survivors under the debris are fading and anger is building among residents

Niranjani Roland, Colombo

Niranjani Roland, Colombo

Published: April 18, 2017 09:15 AM GMT

Updated: April 18, 2017 09:47 AM GMT

Sri Lankan poor protested garbage dump before disaster

A 300-foot-high garbage dump in Colombo collapsed April 14, resulting in at least 30 deaths. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)

A 300-foot garbage dump in Colombo collapsed as Sri Lankans were celebrating their New Year's Day killing at least 30 people and damaging homes. 

Eleven people reportedly remain missing as rescuers continued to shift through the mound April 17. Nearly 100 houses were damaged and 980 people were displaced by the disaster that occurred April 14.

Hopes of finding survivors under the debris are fading and anger is building among residents. Four rescue teams of over 1,000 security forces and heavy machines are involved in the rescue operation. P.A. Shriyani, who lives near the dump said that some villagers had lived there for more than 50 years.

"At about 2.30 p.m. on New Year's Day, my family was watching television and then my daughter-in-law started shouting that the garbage dump was going to collapse," said Shriyani, while collecting belongings from their house.

"We tried to run but our compound wall partially collapsed and we couldn't escape but somehow we cleared some debris and came out. Now we are staying at our brother's place," Shriyani told ucanews.com.

"When we demonstrated several times against the garbage dump, the police chased us away," he said.

Garbage has been dumped at the Meethotamulla neighborhood since 2008 at a rate of 800 tons a day.

Keerthirathna Perera, convener of the People's Movement Against the Meethotamulla Garbage Dump, said that while he was parking his three-wheeler he saw the dump start to collapse.

"It came crashing down the top of my house. I found my wife half buried and somehow she was rescued and was treated at the national hospital but she died on Saturday night. My son-in-law and grand daughter died and only my grandson was rescued," said Perera.

"Several times we organized demonstrations and brought to the poor safety of the dump to the attention of politicians but authorities didn't take firm action. Our children and the elders suffered many years of health issues and now they have lost their lives too," he said.

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An information center has been set up near to the disaster zone for people to register missing loved ones.

Venerable Rambukwella Dhammananda Thero, the Buddhist monk at Sri Abira Ramaya Viharaya in Meethotamulla, said politicians were blind to the situation of the poor.

"No politicians hear the voice of the voiceless people. They only look for their political benefits," he told ucanews.com.

Auxiliary Bishop Maxwell Silva of Colombo said he hopes that Caritas and nearby parishes would support the affected families.

"People and the government should take action on this issue," he said.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a statement saying that the tragedy occurred as they were in the process of removing the Meethotamulla garbage dump.

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