Soldiers and air force helicopters intensified rescue operations in Sri Lanka's central tea growing region on Saturday where landslides killed at least 17 people and left others feared trapped, officials said.
The landslides — triggered by heavy rains — damaged at least 1,600 homes, leaving an estimated 9,000 people homeless across 15 villages near Nuwara Eliya, a mountainous region in central Sri Lanka known for its lush tea gardens and which is prone to landslides, the Defence Ministry said.
In the farming village of Padiyapelella, about 1,000 residents took shelter in the local school when the mud slide threatened to damage their homes on Friday.
After spending the night there, most of them left the school Saturday for a safer location, trekking along slippery, rock-strewn paths.
One man was seen carrying his old mother, who was too weak to walk. Women clutched their children while men carried whatever belongings they could take out of their abandoned homes.
They were headed for safety on a main road on higher ground. It was not immediately clear whether they would have access to relief supplies of food, water and medical supplies as parts of the road were damaged by the landslide, making transport difficult.
"Our forces have redoubled efforts and we have rescued dozens of people," military spokesman, Brig Prasad Samarasinghe said in the capital, Colombo. He had no specific figure on the number of people rescued.
An official at the Disaster Management Ministry said the latest body count stood at 17 and that 15 villagers were missing.
"Seven homes have gone completely under mud," said Namal Rambukpotha. "We have not been able to reach those homes yet," he said.
Military spokesman Samarasinghe said the army had deployed military helicopters along with 100 soldiers to search for those feared trapped by the landslides, which were triggered on Friday following heavy rains.
It was unclear how many people were believed buried. Poor road conditions were delaying relief reaching some of those affected.
"There are many places where there have been landslides," DPG Kumarasiri, a senior bureaucrat in Nuwara Eliya district, 180 kilometres east of Colombo said Friday.
Bad weather delayed relief and rescue efforts on Friday, but conditions improved Saturday with sunny skies.
The National Building Research Organization has sent its people to the area to identify areas at risk of landslides and to evacuate people, said official Kumari Weerasinghe.