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Rescuers find six more victims of flooding

Friday, May 23, 2003

RATNAPURA, Sri Lanka -- Searchers found more bodies from Sri Lanka's worst floods in three decades, which killed at least 266 people, while engineers worked Thursday to widen rivers to drain away floodwaters.

Search teams continued looking in remote villages for up to 500 people missing following the floods and landslides in southern Sri Lanka that started late Saturday after days of heavy rain.

The floods have left an estimated 350,000 people homeless.

"There are areas which still have large volume of water and we are finding this a big problem," said Ravinda Samaraweera, a government minister in charge of social welfare. "The problem we are facing right now is how to let flood water flow out faster."

Engineers were working around the clock to widen the mouths of rivers that drain the affected areas, he said.

Samaraweera, who toured flood-affected areas early Thursday, said six new bodies were recovered, taking the official toll to 266.

Even after several days of searching, the teams have not been able to reach all the villages affected by the flooding because of their remoteness, Samaraweera said.

The government on Thursday renewed an appeal to donors for assistance -- especially bottled water, building materials, clothing and medicine. Money and materials were promised or sent by Germany, China, Japan and Thailand, as well as Norway, India, the United States and Britain.

A consignment of rice, milk powder and clothing put together by Tamil Tiger rebels reached southern flood-affected areas Thursday.

The unprecedented move by the Tigers' took place amid a prolonged impasse between the rebels and the Sri Lankan government to end a 19-year civil war.

The Tigers -- who are based in the north and east of the country -- pulled out of peace talks last month but a truce signed in February continues to hold.

"Despite the stalemate, we want the people of the south to know we sympathize and empathize with their plight," S. Elilan, a rebel leader said.

Sri Lanka is a small tropical island with 18.6 million people off India's southern tip.


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