COLOMBA: Emergency workers dug through tonnes of garbage in Sri Lanka’s capital Friday after a massive rubbish dump buried an estimated 40 homes during the country’s traditional new year.
President Maithripala Sirisena ordered hundreds of troops and police to join firefighters in the Colombo rescue operation after the 300-foot (91-metre) high dump caught fire and collapsed, officials said.
Police said the true scale of the damage remained unclear.
“A search for survivors is under way,” the police statement said, adding six people had been taken to hospital.
Dozens of homes collapsed after heavy rain caused the garbage mountain to shift, officials said. It became further destabilised after a fire broke out, triggering landslides that buried dwellings.
Military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne said 100 soldiers were already digging through mounds of trash at Kolonnawa on the northeastern edge of the capital, with more to join soon.
Heavy earth moving equipment was also being deployed, he added.
Local residents said many people had left the area after the night’s heavy rain.
“We think about 40 homes have been destroyed,” a disaster management official told reporters.
Roughly 800 tonnes of solid waste is added daily to the open dump, angering residents who live nearby.
Sri Lanka’s parliament was warned recently that the 23 million tonnes of garbage rotting at Kolonnawa was a serious health hazard.
Efforts are under way to build an electricity plant that could transform the solid waste into fuel.
Friday’s fire broke out as the country marked its traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year and most people were in their homes celebrating.