It was a heartbreaking sight – families gazing on helpless as their homes went under water and the floods washed away their belongings, while children saw their schools and classrooms being submerged. The recent rains have caused widespread havoc in at least seven districts.
Much of the widespread flooding and destruction has been attributed to unauthorised construction work, illegal land filling, blocked drains and unprotected areas where flood retention measurescould have been in place.
|Preparing food for the displaced.
Residents in flooded areas said this year’s rains were unprecedented, and that areas that usually do not flooded have gone under water, with water levels remaining high for several days.
Twenty-seven-year-old carpenter M. P. Anthony, a resident of Vishaka Mawatha, Gampaha, saw his house being submerged overnight. He is now staying with hundreds of others in a temporary welfare centre put up by the local authorities.
Mr. Anthony said he and his family climbed onto the roof as the water level started rising during the night. “When the water reached roof level, the Fire Brigade came to our rescue,” he told the Sunday Times. “My wife, my four children and I were put in a boat and taken to safety, along with dozens of others who were also stranded on the roofs of their houses.
“Our worry now is what happens next. What kind of assistance can we expect? We are also worried about our schoolchildren and when they can get back to school.”
Geetha Kumari, a resident of the Namal Uyana in Gampaha town, says she has not been able to retrieve any of her belongings since she and her family and their neighbours abandoned their homes to the rains. She said the flooding was a complete surprise.
“This area never goes under water,” she said. “Food is not a problem, but we are worried about getting clean drinking water. Our house has been damaged, and we don’t know where to get help to rebuild our home.”According to Ms. Kumari, there are 35 families being housed in the Gampaha Community Centre. Up to the time of speaking the newspaper, no government officials or politicians had turned up to look into the situation or see to their needs.
Mrs. K. A. Chamila is a 25-year-old mother of three, also a resident in the Gampaha town area. She told the Sunday Times that she and her family fled their home with their clothes bundled in their arms when the flood waters suddenly started rising. She says her house is now completely under water.
“We are in a terrible situation, but I am especially worried about my children getting back to school. We will need help, but I don’t know where that help will come from.”
R. Dayani, 40 years, a resident of Maviyagama, Ja-Ela, told the Sudnay Times that her residential area had never been this badly affected by rains in the past, and that this was the worst case of flooding in her experience. “At first, we did not thing the water level would rise, but by 4 pm the water level suddenly shot up, forcing us to take refuge in the church,” she said.
She said that on the first day the displaced persons were sent food parcels from Minister, but that was the only stage assistance they have received so far. “The church has been looking after us,” she said.
GCE Ordinary-Level student Iresha Madushani says her Ja-Ela house, which was built of wood, has been completely destroyed by the floods. She worries about how she can get back to her studies in preparation for her examination later this year.
“I don’t have a house to go back to,” she said. “I have lost my school books, my school bag and my uniform. My father is a fisherman. I don’t know what we will do.”
T. Sudharshani, a fisherman’s wife and the mother of two, told the Sunday Time that last time the area was hit by floods a minister had visited them and promised compensation, tin sheets, and assistance to rebuild the house. Nothing happened.
“This time too we have been given promises, but we are not sure we will get them,” she added. “The flooding is the result of not maintaining the canals and illegal land filling. The government should take the blame.”
While the authorities struggle to provide immediate relief to flood victims, the victims wonder whether they will be adequately compensated, and how long they will have to wait for assistance.
Security forces to the rescue
This time a year ago, the security forces were battling similar weather conditions, but under very different circumstances – as they confronted the Tamil Tigers in the closing weeks of the war in the North and the East.
|Helping to push a lorry stuck in the waters
|The Navy and the Army using dinghies and boats to take flood victims to safety
This year, they are helping flood victims, and the action is taking place largely in the Western Province.
Army, Navy and Air Force personnel, joined by Special Task Force (STF) and Police officers, have plunged into rescue operations in heavy rain and flood waters to provide relief to flood victims, clear canals, salvage vehicles, rescue stranded persons and facilitate passengers heading to the Katunayake International Airport.
The Navy and the Army are using dinghies and boats to take flood victims to safety and help them retrieve valuables, including jewellery, from their flooded and submerge homes, before looters and thieves come on the scene.
Along the road leading to the airport, soldiers have formed human chains to help passengers reach the airport. Motorcycles and bicycles are being loaded onto Army trucks, along with their riders, and taken through flooded stretches of the road. Vehicles that have stalled in the water are being towed by the Army.
A team of 45 STF personnel has been deployed near the Dadugama Bridge on the Colombo-Negombo road to facilitate passengers on their way to the airport.
“We are facilitating road movements and also distributing food in the area,”,said Inspector of Police S. K. Abeysinghe, who is in charge of the STF-supported relief effort. “We are using our trucks to ferry passengers including across the flood waters.”
The Army ha deployed more than 2,000 soldiers to clear canals and roads, using heavy Army equipment.