Sri Lanka’s Muslims begin to bury their dead amid pleas for help

Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority began to bury their dead here Monday, a day after tsunamis killed more than 5,800 people along the island’s coastline, amid pleas for help.

"We need help … We need everything such as water, food, electricity," said Shaul Hameed as volunteers dug graves at a mosque compound located on high ground in this city, 112 kilometres (72 miles) south of the capital Colombo.

At the mosque were the bodies of 75 Muslims who perished along with 500 others in this predominantly majority Sinhalese region. Nationwide, the toll stood at more than 10,800.

More than 150 local Muslims were still missing in this city.

Elders appealed for any assistance for their community, left without food and drinking water after huge tidal waves washed away homes along three-quarters of the island’s coastline Sunday.

"These people have no houses as more than 500 houses were destroyed in this area," Hameed said.

The mosque has been sheltering more than 1,000 homeless people since the disaster struck.

The government said a major relief operation was under way but little of that was seen in this city.

Communication lines and roads were cut off by the flooding that left a massive trail of destruction.

Nearly 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 19 million population are followers of Buddhism while Muslims account for about 7.5 percent. Christians also constitute about 7.5 percent while Hindus account the rest.

Muslims are recognised in Sri Lanka as a distinct ethnic community rather than just a religious group.

Residents here said one of the main hospitals in the neighbourhood was also was hit by flood water. A nurse who gave her name only as Silva said she ran upstairs when the water started coming in.

Nearly 500 people were in the hospital and were relocated to other institutions.

Sri Lanka has launched a massive humanitarian operation after the deadly tsunamis, the worst disaster to hit this island country. The death toll included 70 were foreign tourists while 1,555 people were reported missing.

The tidal waves were caused by a massive earthquake west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra that registered 9.0 on the Richter scale. It was the fourth-strongest temblor since 1900.