COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers’ houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 250 missing, an official said.
The military mobilized troops to help with the rescue operation as rain continued to fall in the island nation’s central hills. Mud covered some of the destroyed homes to their roofs, and water gushing down hillsides indicated more slides were possible.
The mudslide struck at around 7:30 a.m. and wiped out 120 workers’ homes at the Meeriabedda tea plantation in Badulla district, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) east of Colombo, said Lal Sarath Kumara, an official from the Disaster Management Center.
By early afternoon, rescue workers had pulled out 10 bodies that had been buried by the mudslide, Kumara said. More than 250 other people were missing, he said.
P. Arumugam, who works as a driver on the plantation, said he rushed to the site when he heard about the mudslide.
“Everything that I saw yesterday I could not see today — buildings, the temple and shops had all disappeared. I could only see mud everywhere,” he said.
State broadcaster Rupavahini showed huge mounds of earth covering the houses, with only parts of the roofs visible on some. It showed more muddy water gushing from the hilltops.
About 500 military personnel and civilians were searching for survivors Wednesday evening with the help of heavy earthmoving equipment, according to a local journalist at the scene. Rain fell intermittently, but was not strong enough to hamper the rescue work.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted that he had ordered officials to provide early relief and speed up the rescue work.
Most of Sri Lanka has experienced heavy rain over the past few weeks, and the Disaster Management Center had issued warnings of mudslides and falling rocks.
The monsoon season in the Indian Ocean island nation runs from October through December.
Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, is one of the world’s leading producers of tea. Most Ceylon tea, as it is known, is produced in the central hills, where the high altitudes and rainfall provide favorable conditions.
Associated Press writer Krishan Francis contributed to this report.