wall of doom
Danger still looms after family of three is buried under
the rubble of a playground wall
By Renu Warnasuriya
and Priyanwada Ranawaka
"The house, we can rebuild, but how do we rebuild our lives?"
asks I.R. Adeline who lost her son, daughter-in-law and grandson,
all in one horror-filled night.
Sisira Priyalal, 38, his wife Raju Margaret Mary, 34, and their
16-year-old son Dinesh Niroshan were asleep in their one-roomed
home, adjoining the parapet wall of the Bandu Jeeva playground in
Kirullapone. The playground stands on a higher level than the line
of shanties. Along the slope is its rock wall with a wire mesh on
top of it. Sisira's home built of planks was at the foot of the
heavy storm on Monday night brought down a section of the playground
boundary wall on their home, burying the family under its rubble.
The screams of the dying family were heard by their immediate neighbour
K. Muthukumari, who along with her family members was also trapped
for two days after their house too was badly damaged on that fateful
night. Muthukumari said heaps of rubble and the collapsed roof of
their neighbour prevented them from coming out to safety. In the
Muthukumari family, fortunately, no one was hurt, though their house
suffered extensive damage.
any rescue attempt difficult, if not dangerous, was an electricity
post that had fallen on Sisira's house. "It was raining heavily
and the fear of being electrocuted prevented people from rushing
in to help," said Sisira's mother Adeline, who lives in the
neighbours informed the Kirullapone Police who got the Ceylon Electricity
Board to disconnect the power supply. No sooner the power supply
was disconnected, the residents helped by police moved into action.
They removed the rubble with their bare hands and whatever tools
at their disposal, only to recover the bodies of Mary and Niroshan.
Sisira was alive. He even drank the water the rescuers gave him.
But he had suffered a heavy blow to his chest and died on the way
to the Kalubowila Hospital.
big granite rock had fallen on young Niroshan's head while another
had landed on his mother's stomach. "It took more than eight
people to remove these pieces of wall," said Adeline. "We
got the news around midnight," said Mary's mother Raju Rajamani,
adding that the victims had visited her Narahenpita house that evening,
a few hours before tragedy struck.
uncle who also lived with them in the same house had not been there
that night as he had left on a pilgrimage to Kataragama. "If
he had been there I would have lost him as well," said his
and Mary had been living in this area for around 18 years. They
had lived with Adeline until they moved to their new one-roomed
rented house four months ago, knowing well the playground wall was
people who lived there before had made several complaints about
the wall to the Colombo Municipal Council," a neighbour said.
Sisira who worked as a security officer at the Immigration Department
is the eldest of Adeline's three sons. His wife Mary is the fourth
in a family of five children. She had found employment in West Asia
a couple of times but could never stay away from her son for more
than three months , Rajamani said.
a student of St. Mary's Colleged, Bambalapitiya, was studying for
his O/L examination next year. "He loved art," says his
grandmother explaining that Niroshan was very good with his hands
and used to make various ornaments out of odds and ends.
close to his relations, Niroshan used to visit his aunt every week.
"Every Friday he would come to my house and ask for all kinds
of snacks," she said. Rajamani described him as a typical teenager
who never wanted to eat rice. "He was an innocent boy and never
got involved in fights. He minded his own business and only left
the compound if his tennis ball went over the wall."
of the residents are bitter about the municipal authorities’
apathy. "We have brought this matter to the notice of the CMC
officials several times. But they only did patch-up work,"
said N.A. Amalraj who warned that other parts of the wall also could
collapse soon. "The other side of the wall which was slanting
towards our houses is now tilting even more," he said.
officials who visited the site after the tragedy had advised them
to evacuate their homes, as the wall is still unsafe. "Where
are we to go? We are poor people," said D.S. Kolambage. "The
playground was built five years ago on a garbage dump. They brought
soil and just flattened the ground and put up a parapet wall around
it," she said.
after Monday's tragedy, more chunks of rock have broken off and
fallen down the slope. A narrow lane runs between the wall and the
shanty homes. If the remainder of the wall collapses it will bring
down the electricity posts situated next to the wall. "If the
rest falls onto our houses we will also be finished," said
Amalraj fearfully. As the rains continue, their worries increase.