Floods, landslides kill at least 92 in Sri Lanka

Colombo (AFP) - Flooding and landslides killed at least 92 people and left another 110 missing in Sri Lanka as the monsoon set in Friday, dumping record rainfall in many parts of the island, authorities said.

The official Disaster Management Centre (DMC) reported that over 60,000 people were driven out of their homes in the south and western parts of the country.

"There are some areas where we are unable to reach, but relief operations are under way," deputy minister for disaster management Dunesh Gankanda told reporters in Colombo.

Officials said the toll rose to 92 dead, including a soldier who fell to his death from a helicopter while trying to pull a marooned villager to safety. Another 110 people remain missing.

Sri Lanka issued an international appeal for help as reports came in from areas which had been inaccessible earlier in the day, with neighbouring India sending two shiploads of emergency relief supplies as well as medical teams.

"The first Indian ship will dock at Colombo on Saturday," the Sri Lankan government said in a statement.

The highest number of monsoon-related fatalities were from Ratnapura, the island's gem hub, where the Kalu river burst its banks and inundated the main town which is about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Colombo.

Nearly 500 homes were either damaged or destroyed due to flooding as well as landslides, DMC director of operations Rear Admiral A. A. P. Liyanage told AFP.

Most of the deaths were due to mountainsides collapsing on homes after heavy overnight rain, he said.

- Evacuation orders -

The met department said the worst of the rains may be over, but there could be downstream flooding in the next few days and the authorities issued evacuation orders for thousands of people.

"The monsoon has firmly established and we could have evening showers at a lesser intensity", met department chief S. R. Jayasekera told reporters in Colombo.

The government arranged temporary shelters in schools and other public buildings for people in low-lying areas to move in, the DMC said.

The military has deployed thousands of troops to reach marooned villagers and the airforce carried out several rescue operations to pluck people from rooftops of flooded homes.

The latest flooding was the worst since May 2003 when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful Southwest monsoon, officials said.

In the early hours of the day a mountainside collapsed on a women's hostel at a tea plantation at Neluwa in the island's south, killing at least seven women, police said.

DMC officials said the monsoon had been expected on Thursday night and ended a prolonged drought that had threatened agriculture as well as hydropower generation.

The rains filled the reservoirs used for hydroelectric projects after low supplies had raised fears of power shortages in June.

But officials said most reservoirs were now so full they were in danger of spilling over and flooding communities living downstream.