Sri Lanka storms kill fishermen

media captionHelicopters were used in the rescue efforts

At least 40 people are now known to have died in severe storms which hit western Sri Lanka over the weekend.

At least 30 remain unaccounted for, officials say. Most victims were fishermen operating near the coastline in very small boats.

Navy personnel have been retrieving bodies throughout Sunday and Monday.

An inquiry has been launched into whether the meteorology department did enough to warn fishermen on Friday of the dangers of going out to sea.

Communities on the south-west coast are in a state of shock after so many of their fishermen - using basic small boats without sophisticated communications - failed to come back alive from a fishing trip, reports the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo.

"Waves were going over our heads - it was hell," one survivor told a journalist. He said fishermen usually depended on broadcast weather bulletins but received no warnings about the latest storm.

Meteorology department officials have defended their conduct, saying they provided an alert on Friday once they received information about conditions.

The rain and winds destroyed more than 100 houses and damaged another 2,185 buildings, disaster management spokesman Sarath Lal Kumara was quoted as saying by the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Sri Lanka's minister of disaster management said weather officials might be disciplined if the findings go against them.

A community organisation, the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement has urged improvements in disaster risk information mechanisms.

It called for compensation for affected families and - in future - subsidised lifejackets for those in the fishing industry.

It said officials across the government should take responsibility for the large number of fatalities.

Sri Lanka has a system of tsunami warning towers, but environmental experts say there is no effective mechanism to warn of approaching storms, our correspondent reports.

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