(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Typhoon Nisha affects thousands

Flash floods can wreak havoc in urban and rural areas of Sri Lanka during heavy rains.
Amantha Perera/IRIN

"She had a nice name, but she was not so nice to us," said S. Subraj, 30, from the Jaffna Peninsula, describing Typhoon Nisha, which affected more than 360,000 people in nine districts in northern Sri Lanka last week, according to UN and government figures.

Subraj, who lives in the city of Jaffna, 400km north of Colombo, said he had never seen floods as powerful as those created by Nisha.

"There was water everywhere and the roads looked like rivers," he told IRIN. "Water was flowing through houses and even Hindu kovils [temples]."

The National Disaster Management Centre (DMC) stated in a situation update released on 1 December that floods killed at least 11 people and affected over 360,000 between 22 and 30 November in northern Sri Lanka.

The centre said more than 100,000 people had been displaced and remained in temporary shelters as of 30 November.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) stated in a situation report released on 28 November that over 82,000 people were affected in Mulaithivu District.

700mm of rain in four days

Subraj's native Jaffna, at the northern edge of the island, was hit hardest. The centre said more than 330,000 people were affected and nine killed by flood-waters. Over 40,000 houses were damaged, including 11,000 listed as destroyed.

"People said there had not been this kind of flood in Jaffna in the last 50 years," Subraj said.

"Since 22 November 2008, there has been 719.4 mm of rainfall and cyclonic winds up to 80km/hr in the Jaffna Peninsula causing widespread flooding. There has been no electricity since 25 November 2008 at [8pm]," IASC said in a situation report released on 26 November

"The sea level increased overnight and in some areas, the situation has been adversely affected by the blocking of drainage canals. Causeways have been flooded, isolating the islands off the main Peninsula."

Rains that started on 22 November had eased by 30 November, Keerthi Ekenayake, deputy director at the DMC, told IRIN. "The people still need clothes and food, especially those who had their houses swept away. There is also a need for water pumps."

Ekenayake said the government was planning to send supplies by ship to Jaffna later in the week. UN agencies were also assisting the relief effort, the IASC stated. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was providing non-food relief items, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) was getting ready to provide water and sanitation supplies and the World Food Programme (WFP) would provide dry rations.

Aid supplies disrupted

The torrential rains also disrupted relief supplies to more than 230,000 people displaced by fighting in the northern Vanni area. On 25 November a convoy of supply trucks organised by the government had to turn back due to heavy flooding before reaching the displaced.

"The roads were impassable for two or three days and there was also the threat of the loads of one or two tanker trucks breaking up," the commissioner-general of essential services, SB Divaratne, told IRIN. "All supply convoys had to be put on hold."

Among the supplies delayed were 1,700 tonnes donated by the Indian government that arrived on 15 November. The supplies, to be distributed by the International Committee of Red Cross, were now scheduled to leave for the Vanni on 1 December, Divaratne said.

"We received the green light from the technical teams that the roads were passable, and the first supply trucks with Indian goods can proceed."

The heavy flooding is the second deluge in the last five months. In June 2008 floods in the western parts of the island affected 418,000 people and left 23 dead.


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