“I heard a loud noise as if a helicopter is landing, the very next moment everything came crashing down. I survived thanks to some good deed I have done in my previous life”
Murugaiah Navarasakulam, a 40-year-old father of three utters these words in sheer unbelief. He’s one of the persons who are staying at a temporary shelter located in a school, along with another 94 persons. They all are survivors of a major landslide in Kegalle. No it’s not the Aranayake landslide, but another landslide that occurred on the same day but was completely overshadowed by the major landslide that believed to have buried many in Siripura.
Approximately 15km south west of Aranayake lies the town of Bulathkohupitiya, which is home to the Kalupahana tea estate. Here over 60 families are living within the estate itself and all of them are workers of the tea plantation. On the 17th of May 2016, approximately around 10.00 PM in the night there was a landslide in the Kalupahana estate. It destroyed 10 line rooms (small houses where tea estate workers live) killing 14 people and over 6 missing. Many in the line rooms managed to escape like Navarasakulam and his family.
“As soon as I heard the noise, I saw big rocks coming down. It missed our house and went and fell on top of my sister’s house. They all died” says a very emotional Navarasakulam.
Navarasakulam lost three of his sisters and a brother to this landslide. All of them were living in one of the houses located below to his house. His two boys, daughter and wife survived.
Soon after this incident, despite most of the volunteers were attending the search and rescue efforts in Aranayake, around 15 volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRCS) Kegalle branch was dispatched to attend to the needs of the people who survived. All of them were taken to a school nearby and was provided with first aid and medical support.
As of now Red Cross volunteers continue to assist them in the temporary shelter by providing food, dry rations, first aid and other services.
As most of the people housed at the temporary shelter are workers of the estate, their livelihood depends on it, hence the Red Cross continues to work with the authorities of the estate and the Government to find a safer location to rebuild their houses.
“We can’t leave here. Everything we have is here. We are asking the Red Cross to help us” says Navarasakulam.
Accordingly, the President of SLRCS Jagath Abeysinghe met with the Divisional Secretary of Bulathkohupitiya Mrs. J. M. Ramya Jayasundara and the Superintendent of the Kalupahana Estate to discuss how to move forward by providing resettlement homes and ensuring their safety from future disasters.
The International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in collaboration with SLRCS launched a 3.6-million-dollar appeal that would see the construction of 200 houses to people affected by floods and landslides across Sri Lanka. The Red Cross hopes to include the survivors of the Bulathkohupitiya landslide in this count as well.
“One of the principles we uphold is to be there for the most vulnerable people. These people are most vulnerable. Even after the disaster they were left with very little as most of the attention went to Aranayake and the recovery efforts there, mainly because of the enormity of that disaster” says the President of SLRCS. “We simply can’t turn a blind eye to this disaster and only focus on Aranayake, these people also need our help as well”
The appeal will also look at providing water and sanitation along with hygiene promotion activities as well. Most of the fresh drinking water sources have been contaminated and the Red Cross believes that there could be a breakout of health epidemics such as a rise in dengue, diarrhea and fever.