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Thousands homeless as Sri Lanka floods death toll hits 17

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Residents push a child sitting on an inflated inner-tube as they make their way through floodwaters after heavy monsoon rains in Kelaniya, on the outskirts of Colombo on June 6, 2021. (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

Army relief workers in aluminium dinghies handed out rice and other food to residents in submerged parts of the Sri Lankan capital as the death toll from monsoon floods across the country rose to 17 Monday.

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The monsoon hits the South Asian country twice a year, bringing vital rain for irrigation and hydro-power generation, but it can be deadly and destructive.

At least 17 people have died since Friday after heavy downpours inundated 10 of the country’s 25 districts.

“Our kitchen is still flooded and we managed thanks to cooked food distributed by the military,” Kusuma Dahanayake told AFP by telephone from Gampaha, the worst-affected district, just outside Colombo.

The 73-year-old said it was the worst flooding she had experienced at her home since she moved there in 1995.

Officials said floodwaters in the area were receding, but about 161,000 people were still unable to return to their homes.

The flooding in the area was exacerbated by the illegal filling of low-lying lands reserved for stormwater retention, they added.

Residents of Kelaniya, on the outskirts of Colombo, waded through waist-deep waters, while some used makeshift rafts and oars to get around on streets which now resembled canals.

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In Malwana, just northeast of Colombo, Hassen Maulavi told AFP he had to negotiate flooded streets for an urgent medical appointment on Monday, from his partially submerged two-storey home.

Soldiers on Monday rescued 27 people marooned in a region north of Colombo, after earlier operations to pluck hundreds of people from their flooded homes over the weekend.

The Disaster Management Centre said conditions overall appeared to be improving Monday, although a mudslide warning remained for the 10 districts.

In the central Kegalle district, rescuers said they were guided by a pet dog to a home where four members of a family had been buried by a mudslide on Sunday.

All four — aged between 23 and 57 — had died, the officials added.

While Sri Lanka’s monsoon is seasonal, the nation — a member of the 48-country Climate Vulnerable Forum — faces more frequent floods as a result of global warming, experts have warned.

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