While assistance has reached landslide victims of Meeriaya-bedda from the grassroots from different parts of the island, independent relief workers who have been assisting the victims of one of massive landslides in recent times complain lack of psychological counselling for the affected children and the adults. They also need proper temporary shelters and new lands for permanent housing need to be identified. “None of these has been forthcoming,” an NGO activist told TamilNet. In the meantime, the student community of the University of Jaffna, the Tamil National Alliance provincial councillors of the Northern Province, Tamil National Peoples Front and Tamil civil society representatives in the North have mobilised immediate humanitarian assistance from the people and sent their first lorry with supplies on 30th October.
Reports from Meeriabedda on Sunday said humanitarian supplies mobilised by the grassroots from different parts of the island have reached the victims and the supplies are stored in three rooms. The primary concern at the time of this writing is counselling, temporary sheltering and assurance of permanent settlement to the people, according to the independent relief workers.
Immediately following the catastrophe, the estate workers rescued some of the victims.
The Sri Lankan government claimed that it had dispatched 500 military personnel, 2 helicopters and excavation machines. But, the independent relief workers, during their visit, only witnessed the presence of around 50 military personnel and one machine. The operation was stopped at 6:00 p.m. due to bad weather. They resumed the rescue operation the following day, but it was very slow.
The people also complained that the Sinhala military was blocking them from continuing their self-mobilised rescue work.
The Sinhala-speaking military, which claimed it was there to provide security to the people, was blocking the visitors coming to see the victims on Thursday and Friday. The catastrophe took place on Wendesday, on the 29th October, between 7:20 and 7:30 a.m.
On Thursday, a Sinhala officer at Poonagala School was seen complaining that the victims were not able to understand Sinhala and that he was not able to understand what the victims were saying in Tamil. All the announcements were being made in Sinhala. The SL military was not able to understand that allowing the victims to see their visitors was the first step in providing counselling to the suffering survivors, Tamil relief workers said.
The victims, stationed in three Poonagala Tamil Maha Viththiyalayam school, Koslanda Tamil Maha Viththiyalayam school and Kepkade Tamil Viththiyalayam are to be transferred to an abandoned Estate Factory in Makanda, a remote place without proper facilities, the relief workers further complained.
“Now that we have enough humanitarian supplies, the immediate need is counselling and proper sheltering. An assurance of permanent housing is also an important factor in the counselling,” a Tamil relief worker said.
A 2 km stretch of place, known as the koayil division of Meeriabedde estate, is buried as swathes of rock, mud and rubble triggered by torrential rains swept through the area. Some of the line houses have drowned 30 feet into the mud, the rescue workers said.
The landslide took place with a deafening noise. There was a very old, 60 feet height Mahamuni statue located in the estate. The estate people say they saw the head of this statue flown high in the air and burst in to pieces with that the landslide occurred with a cloud of smoke devastated the area.
Meeriabedde estate comes under Ampitikanda Estate in Baulla district and belongs to Muskeliya Plantation. The estate is situated closer to the famous Diyaluma waterfall. Earlier, bio tea was cultivated in this estate. For the past one year, the cultivation was undergoing a transformation into rubber and fruit plantations. Most of the people here are engaged in self-employment. Almost all of them had cows and goats. Although there were early warnings of possible landslide, the people were not given land to move out. The people were living in the so-called line rooms.
The day before the disaster occurred, a group of the people had informed the Village Officer (GN) of the Kotabakama division, H.M. Chalani, that a crack had appeared in the area, above the place where their line quarters were situated. The officers from the Disaster Management Centre and National Building Research Organization realized that the situation was dangerous as there was stream of water flowing out of the crack. They asked the people to evacuate the place. Some went out and came back in the morning to collect their things to move to safer places and got caught in the tragedy.
Peradeniya University’s Senior Archaeologist and Professor Kapila Dahanake has said that many construction projects were being carried in the mountainous area after levelling the ground without a proper study on the rock formations and without a proper long-term programme to avoid such disasters. He has urged the relevant officials, the people and the students to be educated about disaster of this nature. The geologists should be consulted about the geophysical condition and historic data of the relevant areas in order to avoid similar tragedies in the future, Kapila Dahanake has said.