KOSLANDA, Sri Lanka — A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers’ houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, raising fears that hundreds may have been killed.
In the chaos that followed, there was confusion about the number of dead and missing because government officials reported different figures and later reduced the number of missing by 100 without explanation.
The mudslide struck at about 7:30 a.m. and wiped out 120 workers’ homes at the Koslanda tea plantation, said Lal Sarath Kumara, an official from the Disaster Management Center. The plantation is in the town of Koslanda in Badulla district about 140 miles east of Colombo.
He said at least 10 people were killed and more than 250 reported missing.
Later Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was quoted by media as saying that more than 100 people had been killed. Moments later he told The Associated Press that less than 100 people were missing but they could not be counted as dead.
By late Wednesday the Disaster Management Center’s official numbers were six dead and 150 missing. Pradeep Kodipppily, a senior official at the center did not explain the changes but said the agency would be able to give the media a clearer picture by this morning.
The scene of the mudslide and witness accounts however suggested the disaster was enormous.
The military mobilized troops to help with the rescue operation as rain continued to fall in the island nation’s central hills. Mud covered many homes without a trace while roofs of some were visible. Water gushing down hillsides indicated more slides were possible.
Marimuttu Navaneethan, a 28-year-old shopkeeper, said he heard a big noise and saw mud rolling down toward his home.
He and his family ran from the house, which was soon mostly covered by the mudslide. He said 65 other nearby houses were completely covered.