Sri Lanka: A million hit by island's worst crisis since tsunami

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The Independent Online

Sri Lanka is battling to confront widescale monsoon flooding that has affected more than one million people and which the government says is second only to the 2004 tsunami in terms of the devastation it has caused.

Around 30,000 troops are struggling to get aid and emergency supplies to the worst-hit areas in the country's centre and east, where upto 325,000 people have been forced from their homes. So far, the death toll stands at 23.

"The situation here is quite terrible," said S Raguraamamurty, a co-ordinator with the charity Oxfam. "We are facing immense challenges. An immediate priority is getting food and drinking water to people."

The government yesterday said it would send pregnant women and young children to hospital as a preventive measure amid concerns that waterborne diseases could spread.

Days of heavy rains during the second of Sri Lanka's two annual monsoons have triggered flash floods and mudslides and created a huge logistical challenge for the authorities. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to postpone a trip by helicopter to some of the affected areas. In a statement published in a state-run newspaper, Mr Rajapaksa said: "[It is] the duty of all to join hands and help the victims at this hour of need without any discrimination or petty considerations."

Many villages in the Eastern Province have been inundated by the water, with some villages entirely cut off and accessible only by sea. Community leaders in the area have warned that tens of thousands of people were in need of food and medical supplies.

A number of areas affected by the deadly 2004 tsunami have also been struck by the floods.