Over 350,000 people affected after days of torrential rain unleashes landslides on at least three central villages.
Massive landslides triggered by torrential rains crashed down onto at least three villages in the central hills of Sri Lanka, leaving at least 37 people dead with more than 220,000 displaced.
Villagers recalled hearing and seeing the torrents of muddy water, tree branches, and debris crashing down around their homes late on Tuesday.
"I heard a huge sound like a plane crashing into the Earth," AG Kamala, 52, who had just returned to her house in Siripura village when the landslides hit the area, about 100km northeast of the capital, Colombo.
"I opened my door. I could not believe my eyes, as I saw something like a huge fireball rolling down the mountain and again a huge sound," she told the AP news agency.
The Disaster Management Centre reported over 350,000 people were affected by the landslides. Some 220 families were reported missing, the Sri Lankan Red Cross said in a statement. Officials could not give the village populations, but such villages typically include about 1,000-1,500 residents.
A government official, who is part of the rescue efforts, said that Siripura village was buried 40 feet under the mud.
"It's absolutely mind-boggling what sort of disaster this has turned out to be," Rikaz Hussain said.
"It seems like someone cut off a mountain and planted it on top of the village. There are absolutely no signs of a village ever existing here. There's no sign of Siripura. The rescue efforts here are futile."
Hussain added that sporadic rain was hampering efforts of the rescue workers who had unearthed 18 bodies so far.
"But there are so many other sites and villages affected. Some of the roads are also inundated so we can't even get through to those affected. Some places are not even accessible by helicopter."
One woman, AG Alice, said all nine of her children were unaccounted for. "I don't know what happened to me after" the landslides hit with "a thundering sound I have never heard in my life", she said.
More than 1,000 people who escaped the disaster were sheltering and being treated for minor injuries at a nearby school and a Buddhist temple, according to government official Mahendra Jagath.
Troops using boats and helicopters elsewhere pulled to safety more than 200 people trapped in the northwestern coastal district of Puttalam, military spokesperson Jayanath Jayaweera said.
The displaced people have been housed in temporary shelters including schools and temples. Officials warned more landslides and lightning strikes could occur in the countryside, as more rain was forecast along with rough seas along the coasts.
Mudslides are common in Sri Lanka during the monsoon season with heavy deforestation to clear land for agriculture leaving the countryside exposed.
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|Allen L. Jasson|