Sri Lankan floods kill 27

Floods and landslides in Sri Lanka have killed 27 people and forced hundreds of thousands out of their homes, officials say.
A Sri Lankan soldier wades through floodwaters Thursday after heavy rains in Batticaloa, east of Colombo. ((Reuters))

Floods that have ravaged Sri Lanka's east for days have submerged rice paddies and hampered food distribution, officials said Friday, leaving many villagers to scrounge for corn and yams in nearby fields.

Days of heavy rain have swamped Eastern Province, affecting more than a million people and forcing 360,000 from their homes. The government has estimated the damage at roughly $500 million.

The Disaster Management Center said 27 people have died in the floods and mudslides, including four whose deaths were reported Friday. Twelve more are missing.

A man rests at the side of a flooded road after heavy rains in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. ((Reuters))

Thirty per cent of the farmland in the rice-growing region, which supplies food for much of the rest of the country, is submerged, the Agriculture Ministry said. Many fields were ready for harvesting, and the traditional harvest festival of ethnic Tamils was scheduled for Saturday.

Some villages are marooned, with little or no food aid coming in.

In the eastern Batticaloa district, 300 families have been living on corn and yams, said Velayutham Thevanayagam, a village official.

Concerns about the spread of disease, including typhoid, are also growing as the floods cause sewage lines to overflow and contaminate wells.

Health officials have also ordered pregnant women and young children hospitalized to shield them from waterborne diseases.

Health Ministry spokesman Dharma Wanninayake said teams of doctors and health inspectors have been sent to the affected areas and have set up clinics, but residents said some hospitals are not prepared for an epidemic.

In Muttur hospital in eastern Trincomalee district only four doctors are available, while 10 times that number are needed, said Mohammed Jihad, a community leader.