Floods force a million Sri Lankans from homes

January 13, 2011 (AFP) – Flooding in Sri Lanka has forced more than one million people out of their homes, the government said Thursday as it began distributing emergency food, clothing and bedding. At least 23 people have died during a week of monsoon floods, with the centre and east of the island worst hit by rising water levels and mudslides.

A spokesman for the disaster management centre in Colombo said the eastern district of Batticaloa, which saw bloody fighting in the civil war that ended in 2009, was badly affected after heavier than usual seasonal rains.

“Some 541,000 people have been displaced in Batticaloa district alone where we have set up 275 camps to accommodate them,” the spokesman said, adding that a total of 1,081,000 people have been displaced.

More than 350,000 people have taken shelter in state-run relief camps while other displaced people have moved to higher ground, often staying with friends or relatives, he said.

Retired school principal K. Ratnavel, 63, said half of the coastal village of Ailadivembu, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of the Batticaloa town, was under water.

“My house is under six feet (two metres) of water and I moved into a gov