Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Saving lives during severe floods in Sri Lanka

Most roads are flooded in the Ampara and Batticoloa districts. Photo: SLRCS

Nisansala Ruwanthi a 24 year old graduate student living in Ampara received a text message early Tuesday morning. She got off her bed and took her phone in order to see who would have sent a message so early. The message read “Flash floods in Uhana after the Walagama tank broke its banks – 120 families displaced – please respond to carry out emergency evacuations.” A message from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Branch Executive officer of the Ampara branch requesting her to respond to a crisis at hand. As a volunteer she knew there’s no time to think, her help is needed, and she sprung up from her bed and got ready and got herself to the branch premises.
“I have been volunteering for the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society for some time. I have been involved in many disaster operations. Last year there was a drought and this year the floods. There are a lot of elderly people in these parts of the country who needs help”

Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers rescuing people by boat.

Current Situation
Floods and landslides in Sri Lanka have left 15 people dead and displaced 900,000 as relief workers along with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society are helping the displaced.

Three days of heavy rains in the eastern, central and north central parts of the country damaged more than 80,000 hectares of agricultural land, mostly paddy.

The Disaster Management Centre said that among the dead were seven people who were buried in a landslide in Kandy in the Centre of the country while the other deaths were due to floods.

Over 125,000 people were being sheltered in temporary camps while most of the displaced have moved into schools, temples and churches.

All schools in the East, Uva, and Central Sri Lanka are closed as floods continue to rise in these regions.

According to the figures released today (12/01/2011) by the Disaster Management Centre 863,773 people from 228,076 families have been affected by the floods and earth slips while 127,598 of them have been displaced from their homes and sheltered in 351 camps set up by the government.

Island wide 15 deaths have been reported with seven deaths from landslides in the Central hills and another 44 people have been injured. One person has been reported missing.

The hardest hit area was the Batticaloa district in the Eastern Province where over 480,000 people have been affected by the floods.

Red Cross Volunteers distributing relief supplies to villagers.

Volunteers in Action

Nisansala and her team arrived in Uhana after about an hour and the need at that moment was to evacuate 120 families who were trapped by flood waters in the Walgampura area.

On the previous night the Walgama tank in the area burst its banks and flooded the whole of Walgampura area. People who were living in Walgampura most of whom are brick makers lost their livelihoods when the flood waters washed their ovens which the bricks are baked.

Muthusamy is one such person who has been affected by the floods and lost his livelihoods. He is a farther of 3 daughters and he lost his wife from the 2004 tsunami. On the day of the floods he caught the flu and was very sick and was unable to walk.

Just crossing a road is like crossing a major river in Batticaloa.

All of Muthusamy’s family gathered in a higher ground near a temple in order to save their lives from the flood waters. They were completely cut off from the rest of the world and were surrounded by the waters. Over 18 hours passed by and no one came to their rescue, until they saw a boat with a red cross.

The volunteers of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society managed to reach this stranded group of people and began to escort them to a safer area. They were brought back to Uhana by a boat which the branch had to escort it over 30 kms from the sea.

“We were really scared to stay there. I was sick and I didn’t know what to do. I have 3 girls with me and when I saw that boat, I knew we were saved” said a tearful Muthusamy.

The Ampara Branch managed to provide cooked food and medical support as soon as the people were brought to safety.

 All over the flood affected districts, the Sri lanka Red Cross volunteers are doing relief distributions.

“We received a call early in the morning that the over 120 families in Walgampaya has been stranded. We initially sent a team early in the morning and they said they cannot reach the place due to flood waters. We had to coordinate to bring in a boat inland and for that we had to go over 30 kms from this location. The boat was escorted on a lorry, if not for that delay we would have reached these people much sooner” said Prasantha Udayakumara, the Branch Executive Officer of the Ampara SLRCS Branch.

Nisansala was very moved by what she was part of. She said “I am glad that I was a part of this operation, it’s indeed a joy to see happy faces that was a result of your action”

Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers rescuing people and making sure they have life jackets on in case of capsize.

Red Cross Action

The SLRCS supported by the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have released 11,000,000 rupees (100,000 Swiss francs, 103,000 USD) to support and assist victims of floods and landslides resulted from recent incessant rains island wide.

“These initial funds will support our emergency response in the affected districts, where we have been providing water, dry rations and Non Food Relief Items to the victims. Throughout, our volunteers have been assisting in evacuation, cleaning hospitals, providing boat service etc. Our strength is having our volunteers in all affected communities, making our efforts reaching most vulnerable people swiftly. We want continue in assisting the displaced people whose lives are devastated by the floods or landslides” said Tissa Abeywickrama, The Director General of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.

He further said that as of now, the national headquarters’ of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society have released a sum of 6 million rupees to branches in the affected regions to carry on with initial relief efforts currently at hand.

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society has assisted the basic needs of some 6000 families through the rainy period since early December 2010, with assistance of IFRC, German Red Cross, Canadian Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The relief items already distributed include food parcels; hygiene kits; kitchen kits; mosquito nets; blankets and water purification tablets.

Red Cross volunteers work alongside villagers putting sandbags in place to prevent encroaching floodwaters entering farmlands and properties.

“We will continue to support the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and its efforts to restore the lives of these devastated families by means of financial, technical and ground support in the days to come” said Bob McKerrow, Sri Lanka Head of Delegation for the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies.

He further stated “We clearly have a major disaster in our hands and we need every support we could get from anyone in order to make the relief operations a success

As torrential rains continue across most of Sri Lanka, Red Cross rescue efforts are saving many lives.

Worsening Weather

The Meteorological department of Sri Lanka reissued its weather warning today informing of more rains in the coming days and said that temperatures in the island would also drop drastically due to the cold wave blowing from the north via India.

A school in Batticoloa with flood waters up to almost the top of doors and windows.

Meanwhile many parts of the country saw a drastic drop in temperature. In Colombo and suburbs was covered with mist in the mornings; a rare sight for a tropical country.

Written by By Mahieash Johnney – IFRC Communications and Information Manager in Colombo

Photos provided by Srui Lanka Red Cros


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