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Death Toll Up to 250; Rain Hampers Rescue

June 5, 1989

KEGALLE, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Heavy rain Monday hampered workers trying to rescue thousands of villagers stranded by weekend floods and mudslides that killed at least 250 people, officials said.

Air force helicopters dropped 70,000 parcels of food to people cut off from the rest of this island off India, officials said. Other pilots were directing navy and fishing boats to marooned people, they said.

Peasants in search of belongings scoured through the rubble of mud and brick homes and ruined furniture piled on streets.

State radio said the devastation triggered by a monsoon left at least 250 people dead and 1,000 injured.

At least 100,000 people made homeless sought refuge in schools, churches and Buddhist temples, police and relief workers reported.

On Saturday, eight inches of rain fell, causing deluges of earth and water in valleys that wind through the southwest corner of Sri Lanka.

Kegalle town, 45 miles northeast of Colombo, and the surrounding district of coconut and rubber plantations were worst hit.

″We know there is a family of four buried under that rubble,″ said Mahinda Vipula Jayaratna, pointing to a mound of earth. ″We cannot dig because of the rains and the mud that keeps piling up.″

Jayaratna’s wife and two children died when his house collapsed under a mudslide Saturday. He said their bodies and those of 18 other villagers lay in a local school building because the rain prevented villagers from digging a mass grave.

Upul Dissanayake, another villager, said the mudslide was heralded by an explosion.

″I heard a loud sound like thunder and rushed outside my home,″ the 27- year-old farmer said. ″The next moment the earth moved under my feet tossing me aside and my home disappeared under mud and rock.″

Dissanayake’s mother and father were trapped in the house and killed.

Searchers have recovered 165 bodies from the mud, according to Ratna Jayasinghe, assistant director of social services.

The Sri Lankan Red Cross appealed for food, clothing, tents and medication.