44 migrants, including babies, die in Niger desert

  • As Raft capsizes in flood-hit Sri Lanka, killing three

At least 44 migrants, including women and babies, were found dead after their vehicle broke down in the desert of northern Niger while on the way to Libya, local officials said Thursday.

“The number of migrants who died in the desert is 44 for now,” said Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Agadez, a remote town on the edge of the Sahara desert that has become the smuggling capital of Africa.

In the meantime, three people drowned today when their makeshift raft capsized in Sri Lanka, which has been hit by its worst flooding in 14 years.

Police said the victims, who included a mother and her 14-year-old son, had ignored official warnings not to venture outdoors because they had a funeral to attend.

The drownings in Nagoda in the country’s south follow the deaths of 203 people from Friday’s heavy rains, most of them buried under landslides.

“We have appealed to the people not to go out to check their flooded homes without proper safety gear,” navy spokesman Chaminda Walakuluge said.

“These are avoidable deaths.”

Among the 203 people killed on Friday were 45 school children, officials said. Another 95 are still listed as missing.

The Disaster Management Centre said the situation across the country was improving and thousands of security personnel were working on relief and recovery operations.

Sri Lanka announced yesterday that it will tighten construction laws, saying many landslide victims would have survived had their homes not been built on slopes.

Decades of illegal construction had worsened the flooding by blocking drains and eliminating natural rainwater stores, including marshland.

The flooding is the worst since May 2003 when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon, officials said.

Monsoon rains last year also caused flooding and landslides, killing more than 100 people.

Vanguard with additional report from Zee