Loss of lives averted by the Police | Sunday Observer

Loss of lives averted by the Police

IP Ranga  Perera-The landslide at Ayagama in Ratnapura
IP Ranga Perera-The landslide at Ayagama in Ratnapura

Quick thinking and vigilance on the part of the Ayagama Police OIC, IP Ranga Perera,despite no warnings of landslides saved many lives on the day preventing the town from claiming the most number of deaths reported in the Ratnapura district.

With the heavy rain and loud thundering IP Perera says the precarious location of the Police Station located directly under a hill did not allow him to have a restful sleep.

“I can clearly see the Police Station from my official residence and on the day of the heavy rain made me feel restless” he says adding that unable to sleep any more, he woke up to the sight of floods of water pouring over the Police Station.

“It was around 5.30 am and the water was just gushing over the Police Station and from the hill beyond it” he says, recalling that the water was mud like which caused him great concern. According to IP Perera, though the area had been checked for landslide risks no warning was given and the residents were told the area was secure. However, despite the previous assurances of no risk IP Perera decided to act on his instincts leaving many residents thankful to have escaped with their lives. Calling in around 11 officers of the Police Station, he deployed them to warn residents to evacuate immediately.

“Some did not want to leave and it was a struggle to get them out” he says adding that officers visited homes in the heavy rain in attempts to warn the people. “We went up to the hospital screaming out for people to leave” he recalls adding that groups split up fleeing towards the Police Station while others moved away from the hospital.

“Around 7am the hill just gave way and the massive landslide occurred right in front of our eyes” IP Perera says. “There was no loud rumbling or anything of the sort, there was a pop and the hill just collapsed” he explained adding that the officers who had gone to warn the people had to run for their lives as well.

According to him, over 10 lives were saved due to the quick action of the Police along with the many patients of the hospital. “I am glad we were able to do our duty and save the lives of the innocent” he says adding that if not, the loss of lives would have been greater than reported.

Rising waters and the dead phones – Ranga’s story

On May 25 when the heavy rains started pouring across the island, Ranga Udugama thought nothing of it. It was not a matter of great concern as the rains were predicted and expected.

However, a phone call from Karandana, located 29 Km from Ratnapura changed the course of events. It was his aunt from his mother’s village and it was a plea for help. According to Ranga, she claimed the house was flooded with the floodwaters rising rapidly. “When she called, my aunt said, the water was already above hip level” he said. Unable to leave with her husband being ill the family of three were trapped, away from any possible help and rescue. “The second call came around 11pm and she was worried as the water kept rising” he said adding that by that time he along with three other youth in his family had already sprung into action. “We first tried calling the Police in the area, the Disaster Management Centre and many others to see if any help could be provided to rescue my relatives” he said explaining that however all efforts were to no avail. Deciding to rescue the family, Ranga along with the other youth rushed to find necessary items. “We managed to find several rubber tubes and equipped with those we set out on our bikes from Ingiriya to Karandana” he says.

However, halfway there the four youth were faced with a massive landslide which had cut off the main road making it impassable. Unable to go over the landslide the group according to Ranga made their way back to an alternative route known to them. The new route passing along the Nachchimale River in Ingiriya fed by the Kalu River was even more treacherous.

“Along the way the river was overflowing but we carried on till we came to another landslide blocking the road” he says. Trapped by the landslide and the over flowing waters as the group pondered on their next step the situation continued to be more perilous. “It was then we noticed that the electricity posts kept swaying and two villagers asked us not to proceed further” he says adding that as they moved back another landslide occurred right before their eyes.

“We were now completely trapped and had no choice but to somehow proceed” he says. A decision was made to climb up to the forest and make their way across it to reach the road by passing the two landslides now blocking the road. Abandoning their bikes the youth clambered up the hill to make it through. “We were afraid as the landslides were occurring in hills around us but we had no choice” he says.

Remembering the dangers they faced, Ranga now ponders about the possibility of the risk not being worth it. “We had no way to communicate with my relatives anymore, as phones had been disconnected” he says adding that in the time spent getting there they could have been saved or already suffered a terrible fate. “But we had to carry on” he says.

Finally, arriving at the village travelling over 16 Kms, Ranga says it was a relief to see his relatives safe. “The flood waters had reached their necks and we managed to get them out with much difficulty” he says. Taking them to higher ground away from the floodwaters, it was on the journey back that the danger of the trek taken by them dawned on him, Ranga says.

“On the way back we noticed the forest we had travelled through had suffered more landslides while another landslide along the road had killed as many as 10 people according to the villagers, ” he said.

However, despite the risk and dangers it was a decision that had to be taken. “They had no help and needed to be saved and I am glad they are now safe” he said.