AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The death toll from the collapse of a massive garbage mound near Sri Lanka's capital rose to 26 on Sunday, and activists said 20 more people could still be buried underneath the debris.
Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, who is heading the rescue efforts, said authorities were struggling to determine exactly how many people were trapped under the debris. Lawyer and activist Nuwan Bopage, who worked with local residents in protests to have the garbage dump removed, said about 20 were trapped.
Military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne said 26 deaths have been reported so far and military personnel were still searching the site in Meetotamulla, a town outside Colombo, the capital. They were speaking to survivors to determine how many were missing, he said.
The mound collapsed Friday evening as people were celebrating the local new year. Ranasinghe said 78 houses were destroyed and more than 150 were damaged.
A resident who identified himself only as Sanjaya said that he and others were searching for three neighbors – an elderly man, his daughter and granddaughter – who were buried under the collapse.
Twelve people who were injured remained hospitalized.
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.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Saturday that the government would soon remove the garbage dump.
He said 625 people whose homes were either destroyed or faced threats because of the collapse were being housed in nearby schools.