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KOSLANDA, Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan authorities are warning of more landslides at a tea plantation where a deadly torrent of mud swept away scores of homes this week, residents said Friday.
But with the shelters already crowded, the residents say there is no room left for anyone else.
Disaster officials estimate that about 100 people were killed Wednesday morning when monsoon rains unleashed a cascade of muddy earth at the Koslanda plantation in Badulla district, about 140 miles east of Colombo. The death toll has yet to be confirmed, and many villagers believe the figure could exceed 200.
Kannusamy Mahendran, 34, whose home was still standing but in the danger zone, said they have been warned of mudslides several times by the authorities since 2002. However, they were never given an alternative.
"Officials come here and ask us to leave, but they don't tell us where to go," he said, adding that the families are at grave risk if another landslide barrels down the hills.
Mahendran said the government provided housing for only 25 of the 75 families in his neighborhood over the past years, and the rest are now being told to move into nearby schools and temples with the survivors of Wednesday's slide.
"But we can't go, (those shelters) are overcrowded," Mahendran said.
On Friday, rescue workers using heavy machinery and sniffer dogs searched through the mud as the victims' families grew increasingly desperate.
Authorities said there was no hope of finding survivors, but many relatives say they want to give their loved ones a proper burial.
"They died tragically but at least I want to give them a dignified funeral," said Sinniah Yogarajah, who lost all other five members of his household — his wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and his 6-month-old grandchild.
As the scope of the disaster becomes clear, the government has asked the National Child Protection Authority to take charge of orphans.
Many children had left for school before Wednesday's 7:30 a.m. landslide, only to return to find their homes buried and their parents missing. A government minister told Parliament that they have found 75 orphans.
A large number of children in Sri Lanka's tea plantations drop out of school and work as domestic helpers or waiters in tea shops, and the government fears they could be exploited by recruiters.
Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, is one of the world's leading tea producers.
Most of Sri Lanka has experienced heavy rain over the past few weeks, and the Disaster Management Center had issued warnings of mudslides and falling rocks. The monsoon season here runs from October through December.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sri Lanka has requested assistance from the United States. She said the department is working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to respond quickly, but did not provide immediate details on what kind of help it would provide.