Rescuers were digging Monday through heaps of mud and trash that collapsed onto a clutch of homes near a Sri Lankan garbage dump, killing at least 29 people and possibly burying dozens more.
Hundreds had been living in the working-class neighborhood on the fringe of the towering dump in Meetotamulla, a town outside of Colombo, when a huge mound collapsed Friday night during a local new year celebration, damaging at least 150 homes.
By Monday morning, authorities had pulled 29 bodies from beneath the debris, according to lawyer Nuwan Bopage, who has worked with locals to protest the dump. Authorities were unsure how many more might still be trapped, but about 30 people were still reported missing, Bopage said.
Soldiers were digging with backhoes and shovels, as relatives of the missing pointed out where their houses once stood amid coconut, mango, and banana trees. Those homes now lay in piles of collapsed concrete walls encased in a wall of mud up to eight meters high and mixed with plastic bags, broken glass, and other trash.
The prime minister over the weekend vowed to shut down the dump, which has absorbed much of Colombo’s garbage for several years as much of the capital has undergone extensive renovations.
“These people did not choose to live next to a dump. But they [authorities] brought the garbage in and made this place horrible,” said rickshaw driver Dilip Mirmal, 34, whose home was spared while those surrounding were completely subsumed, killing 23 of his neighbors.
“This is a government-made disaster,” he said. “I have a mix of feelings, of anger, frustration and sorrow. We have been trying to protest and raise these issues, but no one was listening.”