Floods displace thousands in east Sri Lanka

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Floods triggered by torrential rain have forced more than 7,000 people from their homes in eastern Sri Lanka, with some taking shelter in schools and mosques, officials said on Tuesday.

Flooding and ensuing mass displacement are common in Sri Lanka, often fuelled by monsoon rains.

The latest flood victims included families living in basic camps, who had already been displaced by renewed war between the state and Tamil Tiger rebels.

“A total of 7,200 people have been displaced in Batticaloa due to the heavy rains,” said Keerthi Ekanayake, national coordinator at the National Disaster Management Centre.

“Of those there are about 600-700 people who were in IDP (internally displaced) camps who were already displaced by battles,” he added.

He said most of the displaced were living with friends and relatives.

An estimated 5,000 war-displaced are still living in camps in Batticaloa district, waiting to be resettled in areas that are still military high security zones.

The camp conditions are often basic, the sandy soil floors of the shelters sodden during heavy rain, and some families have had to sit on their haunches through the night to avoid lying down in water.

In January, more than 30,000 people were displaced in the east by monsoon flooding, while in December 175,000 people took refuge in welfare centres and temples in the eastern and central parts of the country following flash floods.

The latest flooding hit the eastern district of Batticaloa, a largely flat agricultural area with a coastline that was hammered by the 2004 tsunami and where infrastructure has long been neglected because of a protracted war between the state and Tamil Tigers.

The Meteorology Department forecast continued rainfall in coming days.

Flooding and drought are cyclical in Sri Lanka, where a southern monsoon batters the island between May and September, and a northeastern monsoon runs from December to February.