Floods and landslides in tropical Sri Lanka have killed at least 164 people, authorities said today, as a cyclone grew in the Bay of Bengal, churning towards Bangladesh and forecast to bring torrential rains to neighbouring India.

The floods have reached roof level and cut off access to many rural Sri Lankan villages, disrupting life for half a million people, many of them workers on rubber plantations, officials said.

Villagers in Agalawatte, in a key rubber-growing area 74 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, said they were losing hope of water levels falling soon after the heaviest rain since 2003. Fifty-three villagers were killed and 58 were missing.

"All access to our village is cut off. A landslide took place inside the village and several houses are buried," Mohomed Abdulla, 46, told Reuters.

The military has sent in helicopters and boats in the rescue efforts in the most widespread disaster since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. About 100 people were missing in total.

The meteorology department said a depression in the Bay of Bengal had intensified into what has been named Cyclone Mora and forecast torrential rains over the next 36 hours.

Residents in seven densely populated districts in the south and centre of Sri Lanka were asked to move away from unstable slopes in case of further landslides. The wettest time of the year in the south is from May to September.

India warned of heavy rains in the northeastern states of Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh as Cyclone Mora moved further up the Bay of Bengal. Summer thunderstorms in the run-up to the monsoon season killed at least 24 people and injured about a dozen in India’s eastern state of Bihar, officials said today.

At least five people died when their houses collapsed, and hundreds of huts were destroyed and trees uprooted in eight of the state's 38 districts during storms that raged for several hours on Sunday, Anirudh Kumar, Bihar's senior disaster management official said.

Several people in Sri Lanka were killed by lightning strikes, having been caught in the open or having ignored warnings to stay clear of electricity transmission lines.

Reuters witnessed some people stranded on the upper floors of their homes. Civilians and relief officials in boats distributed food, water and other relief items.
Sri Lanka has already appealed for international assistance from the United Nations and neighbouring countries.

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