Garbage mount takes more than 16 lives

Security Forces personnel continue search operations at Meetotamulla. PIC: SULOCHANA GAMAGE
Security Forces personnel continue search operations at Meetotamulla. PIC: SULOCHANA GAMAGE

Rescue operations are still underway in search of people buried under the debris and garbage mound, with hopes of finding anyone alive, thinning out with every passing moment. The Meetotamulla garbage dump collapsed last Friday afternoon. According to the Disaster Management Centre more than 16 bodies recovered as this edition went to print which included five females and six males. More than 13 people were hospitalized in the aftermath of a section of the Meetotamulla waste dump, collapsing on the houses surrounding the garbage dump.

Estimates of those missing remain sketchy with officials being unable to determine the exact number of residents who were living in the area at the time. ¨Some families had left after accepting funds from the CMC to obtain rent property away from the area while others had left on their own accord due to the risk factor¨ Director General of the Disaster Management Center (DMC) G.L.S Senadheera said adding that therefore officials are not in possession of the exact statistics of the families that remained. According to Police spokesman DIG Priyantha Jayakody, 145 houses were damaged in the tragedy while 625 people from 180 families have been left displaced.

¨The victims have been relocated to Kolonnawa Terrence de Silva Maha Vidyalaya and community centres around the area¨ he said adding that the families have been given necessary facilities by the relevant authorities and relief services will further assist the displaced. An information desk has also been set up to provide information to those affected.

Rescue operations

Nearly 400 personnel from the Police, Special task force and the Tri Forces have now been deployed for the rescue mission. Excavation and search operations are being continued under the direction of four Assistant Superintendents of Police in four teams by the Police and the Tri Forces in the Nagahamulla, Neelgewatta, Daham Mawatha and 23 Watta areas the Police said.

While the Air Force was able to contain the fire which erupted at the site on Friday a Bell 212 and two MI 17s of the Air Force are also currently on standby.

With their visible anger manifested by setting fire to an excavator, residents also expressed their anger towards journalists covering the tragedy, alleging that coverage of the simmering issue has always been one-sided.

One of the politicians the residents took umbrage at, United National Party´s Member of Parliament, S.M.Marikkar, himself visibly shaken, clad in a dark t-shirt marked with mud and earth, taking part at an impromptu emergency meeting held at a near by temple on Friday night, hours after the tragedy struck, said the government is at fault for not responding to the residents concerns before the tragedy stuck.

“It is not the fault of the people. The government is responsible for this and the government must now pay immediate compensation,” Mr. Marikkar said, echoing similar sentiments he expressed last month when a fire in the dump had to be doused by the fire brigade and the residents.

Cause

Experts say there are several sides to this tragedy. “The residents themselves are also responsible – most of the edifices around the dump are illegal – and have been built with the connivance of local politicians who control the “kunu” mafia.”, a former engineer attached to the Colombo Municipal Council, whose knowledge of the issue goes back to the early 1990´s, told Sunday Observer.

Meanwhile the People’s Movement against Kollonnawa Garbage Dump held a press conference yesterday morning in close proximity to the garbage dump. The Organization’s Convener Nuwan Bopage started the press conference pointing the finger at the government both current and previous and went on to say that all responsible politicians and officials should immediately resign in light of what has taken place.

“Since 2011 our organization held over 15 protest campaigns against the garbage dump. These 15 protests were held during the previous regime as well as the existing Sirisena-Wickremasinghe government. The same forces that tried to stop us then are now here to exhume the bodies of our neighbors that are under this mass garbage mound, said the convener of the Organisation Nuwan Bopage.

He further raised the allegation that officials and politicians have made this garbage dump into an income generator- alleging that the chairman and vice chairman of the local body, and the members of the opposition have engaged personal lorries into transporting garbage to this dump. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, a resident in the area explaining what exactly took place described the houses being uprooted by a pressure that emanated from below and caused ripple to a few hundred meters bringing down electricity wire posts and everything upright within.

Funeral arrangements

The government swiftly reacting to situation made preparations for funerals of victims of the Meethotamulla disaster to be conducted under state patronage today the government has announced.

According to Director General of the Disaster Management Center (DMC) G.L.S. Senadheera the decision to provide state patronage was taken yesterday during a meeting which took place with the participation of all relevant government officials.

The government has also announced that compensation will be awarded to those adversely affected by the collapse of the garbage dump. According to Minister of Disaster Management Anura Priyadarshana Yapa talks are underway among officials regarding the matter. During the meeting a decision was also taken to provide permanent housing for the displaced in the near future Senadheera said.

Risk

Meanwhile the risk of collapse at the garbage dump site continues with the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) raising their concerns with the DMC regarding the matter. ¨Therefore residents within a 1 Kilometer radius from the site will be evacuated to various temporary shelters immediately¨ Senadheera said.

Speaking to Sunday Obsever, another resident/activist who was disgruntled by the events that took place said that they did not come to a garbage dump and settled but the garbage was dumped in their neighborhood.

Tri Forces tirelessly working day and night to bring normalcy to the area is faced with many practical issues still strives to exhume bodies under the rubble and clear the area as much as possible. Meanwhile the government has requested the public to refrain from visiting the affected area as it could hamper the rescue missions being conducted as well as the high risk of reoccurrence. 

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