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Floods aftermath hits Lanka

Colombo, May 20 (Reuters): Sri Lanka fought today to feed and shelter more than 200,000 survivors of the worst floods and landslides to hit the island in half-a-century as the death toll rose to 237, officials said.

Estimates of those missing rose above 200 as relief agencies assessed damage to homes, farms, tea and rubber plantations and livestock.

People living in low-lying areas were warned about the possibility of more floods and earthslips three days after the south of island was battered by torrential rain. Some people were urged to leave their homes.

“The flood waters are receding and if there is no more rain the risks are abated, but not completely,” said Brenda Barrett, from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, one of the groups involved in the relief effort.

The meteorology department said the threat of heavy rain was easing but the monsoon season could continue into next month.

Social welfare minister Ravindra Samaraweera said there were no reliable numbers for those missing. “We can’t assess the situation fully because some places are still not reachable,” he said.

People were marooned in a couple of areas and were being provided with food and water while thousands were given shelter in temples and schools.

India said it had sent a ship with a rescue helicopter, a team of doctors, divers and medicine and food, while Norway pitched in with $1 million in relief aid.

An economist said it was difficult to assess the impact of the disaster on agriculture, a sector that accounts for about a fifth of the economy.

A U. Food and Agriculture Organisation official said the impact on rice and livestock would be severe.

About five tea factories were damaged by floods, but brokers said the tea crop, the second biggest export after textiles, was likely to be safe. Some rubber plots were also flooded.

Officials said no tourists were known to have been hurt by the floods.

Wasantha Kumar, a manager at the luxury Lighthouse Hotel in Galle on the southern coast, one of the districts hit by flooding, said they had been expecting a dip in arrivals during the rainy months to September.

”Tourists have not been affected though they cannot travel much. Eight kilometres inland there is a bit of flooding here,” he said.

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