Lanka garbage dump death toll hits 33, PM Wickremesinghe vows swift cleanup

Colombo: The death toll from the collapse of a giant open garbage dump near Colombo reached 33 on Wednesday with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe promising to clear the area as soon as possible.

Wickremesinghe, who cut short his state visit to Vietnam and returned last night, on Wednesday visited the site and promised a house to each of the affected families in the disaster.

He promised to remove the Meethotamulla garbage dump as soon as possible, Colombo Page reported. A portion of the 91-metre dump collapsed following a fire incident on Friday as the residents celebrated the traditional Sri Lankan New Year, burying dozens of residential buildings and trapping many people in Meetotamulla area in Kolonnawa.

At least seven children were among the dead. Some still remain untraceable after the mishap, officials said. The death toll climbed to 33, the report said.

After the explosion in the 23-million-tonne garbage mound, the air force was deployed to douse the flames. Nearly 1,000 military security personnel, including police and special task forces, have been deployed for rescue operation.

The tragedy has displaced nearly 200 families numbering more than 1500. Nearly 80 houses were completely destroyed while many more suffered partial damage, according to Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre.

The affected families have blamed politicians for the tragedy, though President Maithripala Sirisena has ordered officials to ensure maximum relief to them.

The National Building Research Organisation said people still living in over 130 houses in the area must be relocated to safety.

The true scale of the damage remains unclear, police said as about 800 tonnes of garbage were added to the dump daily. The Parliament was recently warned that 23 million tonnes of garbage at Kolonnawa dump was a serious hazard.