PICS: 29 dead, dozens missing in Sri Lankan garbage collapse


Meetotamulla, Sri Lanka - Rescuers were digging Monday through heaps of mud and trash that collapsed onto a clutch of homes near a Sri Lankan garbage dump, killing at least 29 people and possibly burying dozens more.

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Sri Lankan military officers work in a rescue mission at the site of a garbage dump collapse in Meetotamulla, on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Picture: Eranga Jayawardena/APSri Lankan men walk back after erecting a white flag on top of a garbage mound following the garbage dump collapse in Meetotamulla. The death toll from the collapse of the massive garbage mound near Sri Lanka's capital rose to more than two dozen Sunday, and residents feared more victims could be buried underneath the debris. Picture: Eranga Jayawardena/APSri Lankan military rescuers walk past a house damaged in the garbage dump collapse in Meetotamulla, on the outskirts of Colombo. Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, who is heading the rescue efforts, said 78 houses were destroyed and more than 150 were damaged. Picture: Eranga Jayawardena/APA Sri Lankan man affected by the garbage dump collapse assists military rescuers dig his buried house in Meetotamulla. Picture: Eranga Jayawardena/APSri Lankan government soldiers and rescue workers cary a body recovered from site of a garbage dump collapse in Meetotamulla, on the outskirts of Colombo. Picture: Eranga Jayawardena/APSri Lankan military rescuers and onlookers rest on top of a damaged house at the site of a garbage dump collapse in Meetotamulla, on the outskirts of Colombo. Picture: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

Hundreds had been living in the working-class neighborhood on the fringe of the towering dump in Meetotamulla, a town outside of Colombo, when a huge mound collapsed Friday night during a local new year celebration, damaging at least 150 homes.

By Monday morning, authorities had pulled 29 bodies from beneath the debris, according to lawyer Nuwan Bopage, who has worked with locals to protest the dump. Authorities were unsure how many more could still be trapped, but about 30 people were still reported missing, Bopage said.

Soldiers were digging with backhoes and shovels, as relatives of the missing pointed out where their houses once stood amid coconut, mango and banana trees. Those homes now lay in piles of collapsed concrete walls encased in a wall of mud up to 25 feet (8 meters) high and mixed with plastic bags, broken glass and other trash. Bicycles and auto-rickshaws, the three-wheeled vehicles used as local taxis, were crushed or lying topsy-turvy.

The prime minister over the weekend vowed to shut down the dump, which has absorbed much of Colombo's garbage for several years as much of the capital has undergone extensive renovations. As the garbage piled up, it began threatening the tiny homes nearby, prompting residents to stage regular protests while complaining of health hazards.

"These people did not choose to live next to a dump. But they brought the garbage in and made this place horrible," said rickshaw driver Dilip Mirmal, 34, whose home was spared while those surrounding were completely subsumed, killing 23 of his neighbors.

"This is a government-made disaster," he said. "I have a mix of feelings, of anger, frustration and sorrow. We have been trying to protest and raise these issues, but no one was listening."

Another 11 people injured in the garbage collapse were being treated in a hospital.

Associated Press

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