7 dead as nature’s fury lashes SL Cyclone Ockhi heading to Arabian Sea

Cyclone Ockhi swept through the country on Wednesday (29) and Thursday (30) killing seven persons, leaving some others missing, destroying buildings, uprooting trees, knocking out power lines and causing many millions of rupees in damage.

By last evening the tropical cyclone was 340 kilometres West of Colombo heading for the Arabian Sea. However, the country will continue to experience heavy showers for another day or two, but the effects will lessen today the Department of Meteorology said.

The Police Media Spokesperson’s Office and the Disaster Management Centre speaking to Ceylon Today said that the seven dead are from Madolsima, Kiribathgoda, Ambalangoda and Hikkaduwa.

Among the casualties reported are two fishermen who had gone out to sea from Hikkaduwa, despite the weather warnings that were issued previously. One fisherman is reported to be still missing.

Senior Research Scientist of the National Building Research Organization (NBRO), Dr. Gamini Jayatissa noted that a Red Alert warning had been issued at 5:30 a.m. yesterday (30) with regard to landslides, a warning which will extend till 5:30 a.m. today.

The NBRO added that the Kolonna Divisional Secretariat, Boraluwage-Ayina, Balutota, Ranhothikanda, Iththakanda, Ulindiwa and Buthkanda in the Ratnapura District, and Haldummulla and Bandarawela in the Badulla District have been identified as high risk zones.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, Army Spokesperson Brigadier Roshan Seneviratne said that a number of troops have been kept on standby in various parts of the country to engage in emergency relief activities upon the instruction of the Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

“So far we have not got any major request from the DMC, for either rescue or any other assistance. As of 29 November and yesterday (30) we have been providing certain assistance to the Department of Railways to clear up the coastal and upcountry railway track. We have kept 150 teams in various locations, and the Navy has also stationed 30 teams and also kept their naval vessels on standby to engage in emergency relief assistance,” Brigadier Seneviratne said.

The Air Force has also deployed several teams upon the request of the DMC to high risk zones and has also assisted in clearing roads of fallen branches, uprooted trees and damaged buildings.

Air Force Group Captain Gihan Seneviratne added that there were two teams deployed to Wellawatte and the Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo 7, adding that they would continue their disaster management operations as required.

“We were asked to deploy aircrafts to do observation along the coast where ships and boats were lost. We couldn’t get the aircrafts up due to the weather. However. each aircraft did a run that flew from about 10.00 a.m. to 12 noon. But the visibility was poor. We were not able to find anything other than some small boats. We were not able to find any clues on the missing boats. The weather was not cooperative. In all our stations the ground troops are on standby, the helicopters are also on standby. The weather however is restrictive.”

The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development announced that it is carrying out damage assessment and rescue operations in the affected areas with assistance from the Sri Lanka Navy. The Ministry further noted that six fishing vessels were damaged due to the weather off the coast of Negombo. One such vessel which capsized earlier yesterday (30) was rescued by the Coast Guard and the Navy.

State Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Dilip Wedarachchi had pleaded with communities of avoid going to sea and adhere to the warnings given by the Department of Meteorology.

Meanwhile, the Department of National Zoological Gardens noted that five large trees had been uprooted due to heavy winds in the area. Director General of the Department Dammika Malsinghe, speaking to Ceylon Today said that despite the uprooting of the five trees, no casualties had been reported within the Dehiwala Zoological Garden. She noted that the roof sheets of the giraffe enclosure were blown away on 29 November evening due to the heavy winds.

Similarly, the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) announced that over 60 trees within the Colombo area had been uprooted due to the weather conditions by last morning. As per the instructions of Urban Commissioner V.K. Anura, the officers of the Fire Department and the Urban Engineering Department were deployed to clear the affected areas.

Sources at the CMC noted that four large trees at the Viharamahadevi Park had also been uprooted.

President Maithripala Sirisena who is currently on a three-day State visit to South Korea, had spoken over the phone to the Minister of Disaster Management and the Secretary of the said Ministry, and directed them including all relevant Government officers to provide urgent relief to victims of the prevalent adverse weather conditions and take all necessary actions in this regard, the President’s Media Division said.

The President has ordered the deployment of the Armed Forces to assist the civilian assistance teams to provide relief particularly to the fishing community.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met the party leaders in Parliament to assess the state of relief activities last evening.

Meanwhile, the Government announced that it had taken measures to grant a minimum of Rs 10, 000 to each of the victims’ families. In the wake of the disaster situation faced by the country, the Ministry of Law and Order announced that the leave of all Police officers had been cancelled until further notice.

The Department of Meteorology has warned the public to be vigilant as the North East inter-monsoon is operative since 29 November, adding that its effects could be felt throughout the country during the first week of December. Director General of the Department K.H.M.S. Premalal said that as a result, monsoon thundershowers or scattered showers exceeding 100 milimetres (mm) could be experienced in the Western, Southern, Northern, North Central, Uva, Sabaragamuwa and Central Provinces. He added that in the remaining Provinces also rains exceeding 75 mm could materialize.

“To put it in a nutshell the entire country could experiences heavy rains during the next few days. Due to this many areas could also experience earthslips while trees could also be uprooted due to the effect of the showers,” he said.

The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) announced last evening that around 20,000 persons had been affected due to the prevalent weather conditions that were experienced throughout the country.

Minister of Disaster Management Anura Priyadarshana Yapa who addressed a news briefing yesterday said that in all the affected areas, the District Agents, the Divisional Secretaries, the tri-forces, the Police, the DMC, the fire brigade and the officials of NBRO were working on a 24-hour basis.

The Director General of the Meteorology Department insisted that the showers experienced were not a storm condition and that it was solely a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal. The Minister also told reporters not to identify the heavy showers as a storm or cyclonic condition. Premalal further said that the deep depression had already travelled some 300 kilometres away from the western shores. “However, this deep depression could develop into a storm but, that will only happen in the Arabian Sea and not inside Sri Lanka. This deep depression is likely to move across to the Arabian Sea,” Premalal said.

The Minister of Disaster Management said that dry rations and other facilities (such as tents) had been ordered to be provided to all affected families through the respective District Agents and Secretaries.
Meanwhile, the Department of Irrigation has warned the public living near the Gin, Nilwala and Kalu Rivers to be vigilant of the rising water levels and an impending flood situation.

Minister of Home Affairs Vajira Abeywardene also requested the public to inform the respective Grama Niladari officials on details regarding damages caused to properties and houses.

Elsewhere, due to several fallen trees the train services in the Colombo, Badulla and Kelani Valley lines were hampered yesterday.

The Road Development Authority (RDA) also requested motorists to limit the speed on the Southern Expressway to 60 kilometres per hour due to the prevalent weather.

Also the Department of Wildlife had advised the public to refrain from visiting either the Horton Plains or the Yala National Park due to the same reasons.

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