The tragic landslide occurred in Aranayaka Divisional Secretariat on 17th may 2016 at 5.17 resulted in a catastrophic situation, burying parts of three villages, namely Siripura, Elangapitiya and Pallebage. The land slide killing over 150 people and destroying a large number of houses and properties has been a devastating experience in the year 2016. FECT staff visited the land slide area on June 30th 2016.
Reports by Scientists
- By Ruchira Lokuhetti
Our first destination was the mini hydro power station in Mawanella. The power generation of the station has been stopped due to the landslide that damaged the canal that carries water to the power plant. Large boulders and collapsed trees had destroyed a section (about 10m) of the canal. The administration of the power station was in the process of building a road to transport material to repair the damage. The hike we took to the place of damaged canal was not much productive as we spent more than three hours walking. Mr. Chathuranga gave us a tour inside the power station and explained the functionality of the machines involved in power generation. He also gave instructions to Mr. Chaminda to assist us with the setting up of our weather equipments. Mr. Chaminda said that he will try to obtain weather data from a nearby station at an estate through his contacts.
Second destination was Samsara hill in Aranayaka where the deadly landslide took place. The villagers we spoke to said that more than 600 acres were affected by the landslide and the number of bodies still buried under is about 150, which is higher than the news reports. They said that they heard a large sound around 5:14 in the evening and the first slide did the most of the damage. Most of the people hadn’t had the time to escape and the second slide occurred about three minutes later. At the bottom of the hill the mud level is about 1-2m and in some areas the mud was still wet. Large boulders and rocks can be seen everywhere and few houses that had been badly damaged.
- By Prabodha Agalawatte
We arrived at the Mini-HydroPlant (MHP) around 10.00 am. We met Mr. Chaminda, the Plant Manager. He told us that Mr. Chathuranga, the visiting engineer was on his way and will take some time to arrive at the plant. He asked a caretaker to take us to see the landslide area. We set out around 10.30 and went up a steep hill for about 2 hours.
After we reached the top we realized that they have thought that we were interested in seeing the damaged caused to the water carrying canal to the power plant by a smaller landslide. Some rocks had fallen on to the canal and had completely destroyed a portion of the concrete canal. Due to this the operations of the MHP has completely halted.
Thereafter we descended and by the time we reached the MHP Mr. Chathuranga had arrived at the MHP and had left to the damaged site. He had taken a different route and we didn’t meet him on the way. So we had to wait until he came back. After he returned we discussed about fixing the weather station and while discussing he gave us a tour inside the plant. He said that he has approval to provide us material and labor to fix. They have started building a road to the place where the canal was broken so they said that they could provide labor while the construction is going on (for about 2 more months) and is difficult to find labor after the road construction crew leaves. He suggested that we fix the station before the road construction ends.
They have one computer which they use for excel work. This is the computer which they plan to give us to backup data on-site. Currently they have a Dialog internet connection which they say is not reliable, but they are planning to get an SLT ADSL connection within two weeks. Mr. Chathuranga requested us to provide a schematic of how the weather station should be fixed and a list of materials needed.
We asked Mr. Chathuranga whether there were any warnings issued by the NBRO or DMC prior to landslides. They said that no such warnings were issued by any government organization and the MHP crew had to warn nearby villagers about the disaster situation. Then we left the MHP to visit the main landslide site.
At the landslide affected area we observed that except for one two story building and a Bo tree with a small shine, everything else was completely buried- even the trees. The rubble may had been cleared by the Army. There were small streams coming from the mountain which had a reddish hue. Later I learned that this is due to iron oxides in the soil.
We spoke to an elderly villager and learned that the top portion of the landslide area was colonized by late prime minister Dudley Senanayake and the forest was cleared to make a tea plantation. We learned that there had been a huge explosive sound before the landslide which one villager thought was a plane crash.
The landslide had destroyed 3 villages (Siripura at the top, Elangapitiya Colony in the Middle and Pallebage at the bottom) of 2 Grama Niladhari divisions (Debathgama Pallebage and Debathgama Udabage). There had been 3 landslides in the same area altogether. The first landslide has occurred in the evening (17th May) and two more in the 18th morning. The first slide had completely destroyed the area and caused all deaths. The following slides had completely buried the area. The survivors had been evacuated to nearby temples and schools by the Army. Since the schools had to be reopened, the people staying at schools had been relocated to nearby grounds after building temporary tents.
A villager who spoke to us believes that an explosion at the top of the hill caused the landslide and to support his theory he says that there was a large sound when the land started to move and at the top of the hill there are large rocks broken in to pieces as if an explosion had occurred. He says that the moving soil came down with a rotating motion (like a blender he says) taking the
top soil and everything on the surface underground. No warning had been issued prior to the disaster and the area does not have a history of landslides.
According to Prof. Wickramagamage there usually is a large sound when earth starts to slip. Heavy rains cause the clay layers beneath the ground to absorb water and they act as a lubricant to move the top layers of soil. Which might explain why the entire slope did not slip. To the LHS of the slip there still is a cleared area (which is the remaining portion of the tea estate), which was not affected. Even the center portion of the affected area with the steepest slope is intact. But it still does not explain (in my point of view) how the rocks at the top of the slip broke into pieces. There had been heavy rainfall in the area prior to the landslide.
- By Shashini Ratnayake
On the day of the visit, first we went to the Mini Hydro Power Station.
According to Mr Chaminda, no warning was given to the people in his area by the NBRO. He mentioned that after the Elangipitiya landslide, those living in this area (his area) were asked to evacuate as well. He mentioned that this was done merely because of the Elangipitiya landslide and not because of any proper risk evaluation.He told that no data is being collected in that area. He further mentioned that after an evacuation, if no disaster happens, then the evacuated people tend to be annoyed as they had to abandon their daily routines for nothing. This could also reduce their response to another landslide prediction in future. Later Mr. Chathuranga said that no warning was given by NBRO to the people in this area (close to power station) and the warning was given by Mr Chaminda.
We trekked to the waterfall and halfway through, we came across a landslide (minor in scale compared to the one in Elangipitiya). It too had caused some havoc although no one was affected as it is not a residential area. After that we went to Elangipitiya landslide. It was a massive site with massive amount of destruction.
The path of the slide was not straight and was like the flow of a river turning at odd directions and some houses (two at the border), and some sets of trees were intact due to the snake like movement of the slide. Professor mentioned that the reason for this kind of path was the constituents of the soil. I cannot recall the technical terms but somehow according to him there is a certain part of soil that tends to be slippery. When a landslide comes, it (the land slide) travels along the parts of the land where these slippery soil is available. That is the reason for the path of the landslide.
According to an older person from the area, there have not been any landslides in the area in the past.A lady from the area mentioned that on the day of the slide, in the evening a large sound similar to an explosion came from the direction of the mountains. They said they first thought that a plane has crashed into the mountain as a plane had crashed into a nearby mountain some time back. Then someone had shouted that the land is sliding and ran for safety. Some managed to run into safety but others got caught in the land slide. She mentioned that they are still living in the temple and some of them would be receiving tents later that day. She also mentioned that the government has said they will be providing them with houses but not sure when that will happen.
According to another person from the village, all the damage that could have happened happened with the first landslide. Whoever that could escape, evacuated the houses with first slide. No lives were caught in the second landslide. According to him, another landslide would not come to this area (One side of the mountain remains intact).
- By Zeenas Yahiya
According to villagers who resided close to the Aranayake landslide area before the landslide occurred, and temporarily stationed at Viyan Eliya Temple:-
– Settlement in the landslide area took place during the Dudley Senanayake era
Livelihood depended mostly on tea, rubber and spices
– Became urbanized after roads were constructed
– The built environment consisted of number of houses and shops
– These areas could be reached by roads from both sides of the hill
– No landslide history reported in the area
– The landslide affected area belongs to two GN divisions
–Elangipitiya & Pallebage (Gramasewa wasam) (upper and lower)
– Received heavy rainfall continuously for about 3 – 4 days
– First landslide occurred around 5.17 p.m on 17th May 2016 at Samasara Kanda in Aranayake
– Second landslide occurred on the 18th (early morning)
– Landslide originated with continuous torrential rains and a heavy blast from the hilly terrain in the tea plantation area
– People in the area have discovered a huge crack on the rock (about 5 feet in depth) on the upper part of the mountain which they think that could have caused the blast and a possible reason for the landslide
– They say a white colored rock (they believe as Dolomite) has appeared beneath the cracked rock can be clearly noticed
– Heavy rains could have increased the water level of the existing small stream which could have loosen the top soil of the land – Landslide-affected Siripura, Elangapitiya, Pallebage villages in the Aranayake DS division.
– Mass destruction occurred with the first landslide that completely buried the houses along with people; the second and third followed on the next day early morning which destroyed remaining houses and belongings
– They think land area affected by the landslide is more than 600 Hectares – The mud level covered up to 30 – 40 feet in some of the affected areas
– About 85 houses were damaged; some partially damaged and others totally destroyed – No prior warning was given to the villages by any individual or authority
– People were asked to vacate after the first landslide occurred
– The Aranayake Police did not answer the phone calls or came to the affected area, only the Forces/Army turned up later in the evening and engaged in rescue operations
– According to people in the area the death toll accounts for more than 200
– Only about 40 bodies were recovered from the landslide area, and more than 150 bodies that were trapped under mud and rubble could not be found
– Delayed response by the Aranayake police and heavy rains hampered rescue operations
– Displaced people/families evacuated from risk areas were sent for safety to temples and schools and assistance provided
– So far only some of the displaced families have been provided with new land to put up a house, and the others are still residing in relief camps
– Villagers believe that there would not be another landslide in the particular area because all the soil that covered the hills have been already eroded from the hill tops