More than 100 people are thought to have been buried alive after a landslide triggered by monsoon rains hit a tea plantation in south-central Sri Lanka.

Disaster officials said part of a mountain collapsed, engulfing dozens of homes and burying victims under mud and debris.

Mahinda Amaraweera, Disaster Management Minister, told AFP news agency: “What I gathered is that about 100 people have been buried alive.

“There is no chance they could have survived.”

So far 16 people have been confirmed dead, but authorities expect that figure to rise.

Hundreds of soldiers, backed by heavy machinery, have been deployed to search for survivors, but hopes of finding anyone else alive have faded.

Mr Amaraweera said the search and rescue mission was now a recovery operation.

One witness described hearing a noise like thunder as the landslide struck the plantation in the village of Haldummulla, 120 miles from the capital, Colombo.

Shopkeeper Kandasamy Prabhakaran, 34, said he saw dozens of houses being washed away by the mud.

He said: “Right before my eyes I could see houses crumbling and getting washed downhill. It all happened very quickly.”

It is reported that around 140 homes were washed away, while others were buried in more than 30ft of mud and debris.

Over 300 people, many of them children, were evacuated to nearby schools amid further landslide threats.

Heavy rain since mid-September has triggered a number of landslides, although until now there had been no casualties.