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Garbage piles up in capital as death toll hits 31

A military spokesman said hundreds of troops were still searching for five people missing since the accident.

Residents and rescuers check damaged homes at the site of a collapsed garbage dump near Colombo, on April 15, 2017

Authorities sealed the massive 300-foot (90-metre) rubbish mountain on the northeastern edge of Colombo after it collapsed Friday, destroying 145 homes nearby and burying victims in a garbage landslide.

Military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne said hundreds of troops were still searching for five people missing since the accident, but authorities were not hopeful of finding any survivors four days on.

Soldiers dug out another body on Tuesday afternoon raising the toll to 31.

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The Colombo Municipal Council was scrambling for new locations to dump the roughly 800 tonnes of garbage produced every day in the capital, as crows and stray dogs picked through bags of reeking garbage left on city streets.

The council sought permission Tuesday from a local magistrate to access another tip outside the city limits, promising it would clear the four-day backlog of trash within 24 hours.

In several areas of the capital, heaps of garbage spiled onto main roads.

"We are finding new locations. By noon Wednesday I am hopeful of restoring normality in clearing the garbage,"Commissioner V. K. A. Anura told AFP.

"We will not dump it all in one location, but at several sites."

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He said deaths could have been avoided if people who lived near the garbage dump had taken his warnings two weeks ago and moved out with rent paid by the council for alternate housing.

But activists have complained that ad hoc compensation and relocation was not the answer to a festering problem that politicians have been unable to resolve for years.

On Tuesday, the authorities declared a large area unsafe and ordered residents to vacate their homes.

Officials said 1,700 people living near the tip had already been relocated to temporary shelters while the government searched for alternative accommodation for many more.

A night of heavy rain, followed by an outbreak of fire, destabilised the 23 million-tonne garbage heap, causing its collapse as Sri Lankans celebrated the traditional new year.

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Parliament had been warned the vast tip posed a serious health hazard, and that a long-term solution was needed to dispose of Colombo's trash.

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