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) (The Associated Press)
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The death toll from the collapse of a massive garbage mound near Sri Lanka's capital rose to 22 on Sunday, and activists said some 20 more people could still be buried underneath the debris.
Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, who is heading the rescue efforts, said authorities were struggling to determine exactly how many people were trapped under the debris due to a lack of information from the residents.
Lawyer and activist Nuwan Bopage, who had worked with local residents in their protests to have the garbage dump removed, said about 20 people were buried under the debris.
Military personnel were still searching the site in Meetotamulla, a town outside Colombo, the capital, and speaking to survivors to determine how many were missing.
The tragedy occurred Friday evening as people were celebrating the local new year.
A resident who identified himself only as Sanjaya said that he and others were searching for three neighbors — an elderly man, his daughter and granddaughter — who were buried under the collapse.
Twelve people who were injured in the disaster remained in the hospital.
Ranasinghe said 78 houses were destroyed and more than 150 were damaged.
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.
He also said 625 people whose homes were either destroyed or under threat from the collapse were being housed in nearby schools.