19 killed in Sri Lanka as massive mound of garbage collapses

Crows fly over a row of houses buried by a collapse of a garbage dump in Meetotamulla, on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, April 15, 2017. A part of the garbage dump that had been used in recent years to dump the waste from capital Colombo collapsed destroying houses, according to local media reports. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A massive mound of garbage collapsed in Sri Lanka, killing 19 people, injuring 13 and forcing more than 600 others to flee their homes during festivities to mark the local new year, officials said Saturday.

Soldiers on Saturday were searching the site in Meetotamulla, a town near the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.

Four people were rescued from underneath the mound, but it was unclear whether any others were buried, said military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne, who said five children were among the dead.

Police spokesman Priyantha Jayakody said police were investigating whether the collapse Friday night was a natural disaster or a deliberate act of sabotage.

The site has been used to dump Colombo’s garbage for the past few years as authorities sought to give the capital a face-lift. But residents living in tiny homes in the area have protested against all the waste being dumped there because of health hazards.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Saturday that the government would soon remove the garbage dump from the area.

Seneviratne said 625 people whose homes were either destroyed or under threat from the collapse were being housed in nearby schools. The 13 injured were receiving treatment at the Colombo’s main state hospital.

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