COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The death toll in last Friday’s catastrophic collapse of a garbage dump in the Sri Lankan capital mounted to 28 on Monday, and it was expected to increase as rescuers dug for a fourth day through debris that buried part of a residential neighborhood.
Thirty people have been reported missing, according to Pradeep Kodippili, the deputy director of Sri Lanka’s disaster management center.
“It’s hard to guess what the total number” of dead will be, he said.
An explosion in the dump on Friday afternoon caused a portion of the mound to collapse, sweeping scores of houses off their foundations and burying others, trapping residents inside. Survivors described hearing a loud noise and running outside to see nearby dwellings rushing in their direction on a tide of debris, surrounded by smoke.
A team of geological investigators, who have been gathering evidence at the dump, believe that the explosion occurred when methane naturally produced by decaying waste ignited, Mr. Kodippili said.
Residents of the working-class neighborhoods around the dump had complained for more than two decades about reeking water flooding through their narrow lanes, where it collected during the hottest months of the year, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
But successive governments were unable to find a new home for the dump, and the mountain of garbage grew every year. The prime minister announced on Sunday that trash would no longer be deposited there.
Similar disasters elsewhere in the world have shown how the mundane civic chore of waste disposal can present deadly hazards for developing countries.
In March, at least 113 people were killed when part of a landfill collapsed in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Many of the victims had been displaced by development in the rapidly growing city.
At least four people died in April 2016 after a large slope of trash tumbled down at a dump in Guatemala City, possibly as a result of heavy rains.
And in December 2015, at least 69 people were killed when a pile of dirt and construction debris gave way in Shenzhen, China, burying homes and factories in a wave of mud. Engineers had warned for months that the hillside dump was unstable.
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