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19 dead as monsoon lashes Sri Lanka

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Monsoon rains and strong winds in Sri Lanka have killed at least 19 people with dozens more missing, most of them fishermen caught in rough seas, officials said on Sunday.

The navy and airforce are searching for 36 fishermen who have been missing at sea since the monsoon hit early on Saturday, Sarath Kumara Gunaratne, deputy minister of disaster management, told reporters.

The bodies of 18 fishermen have so far been found, while the body of another person was discovered on land, the minister said.

"A joint rescue operation is underway," the minister said.

"The navy and the airforce have deployed several craft to look for survivors. At least 21 injured fishermen have been rescued so far and admitted to hospital," he said.

On Saturday, officials confirmed five people died as a result of the monsoon which hits annually, bringing much-needed rain, but also frequently causing loss of life and property damage.

Heavy showers were expected in many parts of the island on Sunday with winds already reaching speeds of over 70 kilometres (43 miles) an hour, the meteorological office said.

Security forces were deployed to clear fallen trees and power lines strewn on several key highways, military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya said.

Several trees at Sri Lanka's main zoo, just south of the capital Colombo, were also uprooted by strong winds, but the animals were unharmed, a zoo official said.

A 20-foot (17-metre) long whale washed ashore in Colombo on Saturday while a stranded giant sea turtle was rescued by locals at a suburb of the coastal capital, police said.

The authorities opened sluice gates of four major hydroelectricity reservoirs in central Sri Lanka late on Saturday to prevent damage to dams.

Seven people were killed in Sri Lanka last month when a tropical cyclone brushed the island's eastern coast.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130609/19-dead-monsoon-lashes-sri-lanka