Returning home but where
Having lost their loved ones and their homes to a
massive landslide in the Aranayake area, survivors are now reluctantly
returning to their damaged homes and the villages buried under mounds of
Almost a fortnight after the Aranayake landslides, having seen death
and destruction, the survivors are trying to get back on their feet,
The affected communities settled in over 20 camps in and around
Aranayake are of two types: directly affected by the landslides, losing
family and homes, and those who evacuated due to their homes being
situated in a hazardous zone.
Certified as deceased
Ajith Thilakarathne who lost his wife, son, mother, younger sister
and brother-in-law together with his home to a sliding hill, said he was
not allowed to go to the Kevilipitiya camp to find out whether his
brother's body was among the bodies recovered.
Having taken temporary shelter at the camp at the Rajagiriya School
in Aranayake, he has duly provided the police information on his missing
family. He said they weren't allowed to lodge police complaints about
deceased members anywhere else, but in their present camps.
"Our statements recorded at any other camps were not taken into
consideration," he said. Many families died leaving nobody to lodge
police complaints, in which case, police records do not indicate the
actual number missing, he said.
Don not enter: The warnings
keep people away from the mountain
Thilakarathne said those who lost families and houses were taken away
from the Rajagiriya camp, to a Pavilion in a ground nearby, infested
with fleas. "We lost everything and that's how they treated us," he
However, OIC Aranayake P.R.H.K. Gunathileka said, "Whenever a body
was recovered, we inform all the camps and accommodate people to
identify the bodies if they think they resembled their missing family
Many funerals have been held in Aranayake, for the deceased and the
missing. Common religious ceremonies were held at temples and schools
where temporary camps have been set up to remember those who disappeared
under the Samasara Mountain.
According to the Registration of Deaths Act 2010, persons missing due
to natural disasters or calamities can be registered as deceased. Though
many of the affected are positive their relatives are buried under the
mountain that once hovered over their houses, they think the issue would
remain unconfirmed in the eyes of the law, which could have long term
implications on their lives.
To return or not to return
However, Senior Deputy Registrar General T. M. Premasiri said that as
soon as the Registrar General has issued the gazette notice declaring
Aranayake and other affected areas as 'National Disaster Areas', the
process of issuing death certificates would commence and the
certificates would state the person as deceased, not disappeared. "We
have requested information from District Secretaries and are yet to
receive the reports. With continuous speculations that there can be more
landslides in Aranayake, the report may be delayed," he explained.
The cracked mountain
People in camps told the Sunday Observer they are given plenty of
food and clothes. However, two dengue patients from the hospital have
been brought to the camp. Though they are afforded special living
arrangements, people are sceptical about their protection. A case of
diarrohea reported was cured immediately, the Public Health Inspectors
in the area confirmed. Education of the children however is a problem;
some children are living in camps while some schools are being used as
camps. Principals and teachers are having classes for Grade 5 and O/L
students in schools.
Although many politicians and officials have said it is safe to
return home, seeing the mountain they once called home cracked, about a
foot or two wide and five feet deep in some areas, people are refusing
to return home. It meant losing their livelihoods as they had been
living by cultivating tea, cloves, pepper and fruits across acres in the
I. W. Amarasuriya, whose house is situated in the hazardous zone
said, some politicians and Grama Niladaris had requested them to return
to their villages on the mountain slope, assuring them that there won't
be any more landslides. "However, the day after that, the Kabaragala
Podaya area had been hit by a landslide." Even though the people have
been told to return to their houses, a proper assessment of the area is
yet to be conducted.
The children in the camps told the Sunday Observer team that they saw
the landslide and are scared of the mountain. They appeared to be afraid
of all loud noises.
H. A. Sunanda Lal said the villagers are yet to be officially
informed of the three acre land offered by Kapuru Banda in Wariyapola to
resettle the affected communities, and are disgruntled over continuous
camp life without a foreseeable future.
However, Suranga Hathurusinghe, the Grama Sewaka of Elangipitiya and
Pallebhage, two affected villages, said he is not aware of the villagers
being asked to return home. The District Secretary of Kegalle was not
available for comment.
Ambuluwawa: A catastrophe weighing in tons
Approximately 75,000 tons of garbage, coupled with dirt and rocks,
slid down Ambuluwawa Mountain on 17 May, displacing over 70 people and
polluting the water springs starting from Ambuluwawa Mountain and
flowing through Mawanella to Ma Oya.
Unanvitiye Shanthabhadra thera (aka Ambuluwawe hamuduruwo) said the
villagers lost their houses, crops and livestock as well as herds of
goat to the five year old garbage dumped on the mountain top by the
“The garbage containing plastic, glass, metal and biodegradable
stuff, all slid along with the rocks and dirt.” S. H. Bandara, a
resident whose house and livelihood was affected said the court case
filed against the Urban Council for dumping garbage on the mountain
ended with the latter agreeing not to dump garbage at the said
locations, but continued to do so.
He said the people are faced with political oppression, and
inefficiency of the Council, which has failed to find a solution to the
People request the garbage to be removed and the areas to be cleaned,
for them to return home.