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The looming gloom after the ‘Meethotamulla Tragedy’

21 April 2017 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


With a death toll that has risen to thirty two so far and with approximately 1,703 people believed to be affected as a result of the collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage dump, the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) recently issued a warning to area residents including the public in general, to refrain from visiting the Meethotamulla garbage dump; since the landslide situation experienced recently at the site has not become fully stable yet. Speaking to Daily Mirror, Director of Landslide Research and Risk Management Division of the National Building Research Organization R.M.S. Bandara explained how the ground conditions in Meethotamulla along with garbage dump had resulted in causing a landslide in the area.  

NBRO warns the public to refrain from visiting the garbage site until the situation becomes fully stable  

“We have examined the ground conditions in Meethotamulla where the garbage has been dumped. Actually this garbage dump was heaped on top of some massive and original soil layers. The bottom of this soil layer consists of a soil structure that is much dense in composition” says Mr. Bandara.   
According to Mr. Bandara, when the garbage is unloaded, a subsidence should occur in the soil due to the heavy load dumped on the soil. However, in the case of the Meethotamulla garbage dump this has not happened due to the dense soil layer that lies underneath the pile of garbage. The dense soil layer under the Meethotamulla garbage dump was layered on top with a weak layer of soil. “Due to constant piling of garbage, the weak layer of soil has loosened and given rise to the movement of garbage laterally; in the direction of where the houses were located. While the garbage was moving laterally, the houses have also being heaved upwards as a result of a vertical, upward movement that has occurred in the weak layer of soil. This is the main reason why the houses were collapsing. It is the upheaval in soil that resulted in the collapse, crushing and burying of the houses in the soil” Mr. Bandara said. He stated that if authorities continue to pile more garbage in Meethotamulla, the rest of the garbage mountain will also come crumbling down and result in the destruction of the remaining residencies.  


The entire responsibility should be taken by the Colombo Municipality because this is the third time they sprayed the gas .The gas affects the soil. We are land owners”. Pointing to a concrete lamp post that was lying on the ground, he said it could never be damaged in this lifetime. “When the collapse occurred the houses rose off the ground along with the lamp post. Everything has gotten buried under the rubble. For an instance, the entire Temple 1st lane was buried under the rubble. People got buried while they were running to take cover.” 
-Hector Payangala

The other impending threat with regard to the garbage dump involves rain water. When the rain water is absorbed by the garbage pile the load will gradually increase. This will again result in a lateral as well as vertically upward movement of the garbage pile along with the soil underneath. This movement will continue to prevail if there is a heavy rain fall or if authorities decide to continue piling garbage in this area.  

Furthermore, he said that as a result of the disturbances in the soil, natural drainage systems have been blocked already; leading into a minor flood situation in the concerned area. Accordingly, if it rains during the next few days, the minor flood situation in Meethotamulla may worsen in future. He stated that the NBRO has declared Meethotamulla garbage site as a hazardous area mainly due to the impending flood threat and imminent collapse of the remaining mountain of garbage. He stated that approximately 130 houses have been affected by the tragedy. However, he said that the exact number of houses that were destroyed during the garbage collapse would be announced later after conducting a thorough evaluation on the situation.

We also spoke to a devastated woman, Kanthi, who was too overcome with tears to speak. “There is no use no matter how many comments we give. I’m sorry.My house is completely destroyed”, Kanthi wept.  

“We strongly advise people to refrain from visiting the site since soil movement is still happening in the area and there is also a flood situation that is developing in the vicinity. Therefore, we caution people to avoid visiting the site until the situation in Meethotamulla becomes stable again. Currently, we are conducting studies with regard to the approach we should adopt in future; to mitigate such situations from occurring again while looking for solutions on how best to prevent the destruction of houses and the loss of lives. Once the studies are concluded, we will try to give recommendations to respective authorities concerning how they should address this issue in future” he added.   
As the real reason for the Meethotamulla garbage dump collapse, one of the worst ever ‘man made’ tragedies, is yet to be investigated, many residents who were affected suspect that it was a chemical sprayed to speed-up the decomposition of the waste that led to the disaster.   

“We were all seated inside, when we heard a really loud noise. We all ran out and what we saw were all the buildings rising off the ground. All the backhoes that were working on the dump site had risen byabout 35 ft. above the road. I also used to live down the lane where the incident took place, but I was lucky enough to move up the lane in the direction of Nagahamulla. If I had been down there at the time the incident took place, then I would have also been a goner. Since I live a little distant away from where the incident took place, I was saved. There are still a lot of people under the rubble including visitors who came for Avurudhu and lots of small children. Everyone is dead.”  
When asked whether the victims were given some kind of compensation for the disaster caused, this is what he had to say; “Nobody comes here. We did not even receive a water can. For several years protests were held against the garbage dump but no steps were taken. People got hit. The officers do not even come this way. They only come here during the elections. There are about 400 families but only 35 or 40 received money as some sort of compensation. Even during the time of the floods people have not received the full amount of money promised. So people are in the belief that compensation will not be given this time as well. Among the casualties that were reported was a man named Chamila whose legs are currently paralyzed but unfortunately he lost his daughter to the collapse. She was about 14 or 15 years old.”  
However, it has been reported that the President has given clear instructions to officials to carry out duties and provide victims with alternative housings and welfare without holding any financial constraints. It was also reported that according to the Ministry of Finance, a sum of Rs. 100, 000 would be paid as compensation for each lost life including a sum of 2.5 million rupees would be paid for damaged properties.  

Few days since the tragedy at Meethotamulla, amidst the progress of excavating people buried underneath the rubble, the Daily Mirror visited the area and spoke to several local residents regarding the situation that prevailed at the moment and their thoughts on what may have provoked the collapse of the dump in the first place.


“They say a chemical has been sprayed at the dump site and due to that chemical, methane gas has been created. This is not something that happened recently. This has been building up for some time now. It exploded all of a sudden. We were here when it happened. We saw everything.These are avurudhu days. So people from outside are also trapped underneath the rubble. There are lots of small children too. No one came from the government. A gas was also sprayed to kill the stench given off by the garbage. People believe that this is also a reason for the collapse. No politician came this way. We are waiting for them.”  
-Viraj Siriwardana


 “My mother and two kids also lost their lives due to the garbage collapse. On the day the garbage dump collapsed, I heard a noise from behind the house and immediately went looking for my children. However, I got caught to the passage area and was thrown out twenty feet high above ground level and from the road; along with the bathroom structure of my house. Although I escaped with injuries, my kids were nowhere to be seen. I was told by some witnesses to the incident, that they saw my children running in the direction of the gate and back to the house. They were trapped indoors with their grandmother. We were able to recover the body of my second son only around 10.30 a.m. on Monday morning. Upon conducting and concluding the related Janaza burial procedures, we received information on the same day that the bodies of my mother and eldest son were recovered from the rubble”. 
- Sheriffa Kichilan from Pansalhena  

“If an officer had told us to evacuate the premises, people would have evacuated the place on time, but the officers didn’t do that. Previously there were several public protests that were conducted against the Meethotamulla garbage dump but the officers didn’t care. At that time if necessary action was taken, the lost lives would have been saved.” 


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