Sri Lanka decides to conclude rescue operations in garbage dump collapse

Apr 19, Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the authorities expect to conclude the rescue operations at Meethotamulla garbage dump collapse within the next 72 hours.

“While a sustainable solution will be provided to the residents of Meethotamulla, we expect rescue operations to conclude within the next 72 hours with the help of the Sri Lankan military,” the Prime Minister said after visiting the site this morning.

“While those currently displaced have been relocated to safety, the Government of Sri Lanka is determined to take steps which will see those affected return to their way of life,” he continued.

He also said the government is determined to find a sustainable solution to the existing problem of the Meethotamulla garbage dump and has instructed the relevant parties on how to tackle this matter effectively. The program aimed at garbage and waste recycling within Sri Lanka is a matter of emergency, he added.

“We must halt the damage caused due to the garbage dump at Metotamulla, and implement plans which will ensure that those in the area can return to their day-to-day lives,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe stressed.

Meanwhile, an AFP report said search operations for survivors were concluded on Wednesday, 19 April,  five days after a 300-foot garbage dump in Meethotamulla collapsed after a night of rain burying dozens of people and homes.

What should have been a joyous celebration of the nation’s New Year’s Day on Friday, 14 April, became a nightmare for many families living near the Meethotamulla garbage dump  — when a huge mountain of garbage crashed down on their houses in a devastating landslide.

Residents said the collapse of the massive garbage mound started between 2.30 pm and 3.00pm on Friday. Since it was a holiday, most people were in their homes when the disaster hit. Many houses were also hosting guests, with relatives and friends visiting for the New Year.

The sheer force of the garbage landslide, said to have been caused by a fire,  left a trail of destruction in its wake. Large trees were uprooted. Swept away and destroyed were sturdy houses, several storeys high.

The site has been used to dump Colombo’s garbage for the past few years as authorities sought to give the capital a face-lift. But residents living in tiny homes in the area have protested against all the waste being dumped there because of health hazards.

Members of the military work search for survivors after the collapse of the Meethotamulla rubbish dump
Rescuers pulled survivors from the landslide but many people lost their lives in the tragedy
Soldiers carry a body from the debris
Rescue teams have been using diggers to remove debris

“We are still carrying out clearing operations. The final death toll is 32 and a handful of people who were listed as missing are now accounted for,” military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne told AFP.

Residents in the area have been evacuated and the government is now facing the mammoth task of removing the garbage dump and providing displaced residents with alternative housing and other facilities.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe vowed to provide the survivors with permanent housing within a couple of months and to relocate the garbage dump. Before the collapse, the Parliament was warned about the threat and had asked for a long-term solution to deal with the city’s garbage, AFP reported.

The waste management situation has worsened in Colombo after the dump was shut down on Friday, 14 April. The city’s civic body had promised to clear the garbage from the streets by April 19.

Meanwhile, protestors agitated against the dumping of trash in smaller landfills at five other locations in the outskirts of Colombo.

[Sources: ColomboPage, the Sunday Times, the Sun, the Guardian]

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