My friend Simon Dowe, Assistant Director of Children on the Edge, received this communique from a student of his in Sri Lanka.
It has been a difficult few days dealing with all the happenings and also dealing with my own emotions and the fact that we were safe. Each time I see the kids in front of me, I cannot help but think of the many parents who lost their children and so many children who have been orphaned. I have heard some heart-wrenching stories from and of people I know.
We were spared in Colombo. We had been to the Mount Lavinia beach south of Colombo on Christmas morning about the same time and the plan was to go there again on 26th. This particular beach area was affected, not so badly, but two people perished. We were feeling a bit lazy (after all the Christmas cheer) to drive all the way to this beach so my mother in law decided to take the kids to a private swimming club, by the ocean in the middle of Colombo. As I heard the news I got in my car and raced to the Swimming Club and saw the ocean receding about 500 meters. It was as if a big hole in the middle was sucking all the water back in leaving the bottom with rocks, coral and reef exposed like never before. It was surreal and I felt a chill go through my spine. I grabbed the kids and got out of there expecting the worst. As I drove past other sea front areas, I saw thousands of people gawking at this and some even at the bottom and I thought, if a wave comes in, most of those people will be history.
That is what happened to most people who disappeared. As the water receded, after the first wave, as they did not know any better, everyone came running into the ocean and especially kids were catching fish at the exposed bottom. When the next wave came in hard it surprised them. All together about 6 waves came in at 30 minute intervals. So, I would say at least a 50% of the deaths were unnecessary, if we all knew any better. We can't blame anyone as the last one hit Sri Lanka when Krakatova blew in Indonesia in the later 1800s.
Anyway, life must go on. I was numbed into inaction for about two days but our kids got mobilized by collecting clothes and food on the third, so we got out and went to a few relief centers and then the Rotary Club also mobilized and we were allocated the area surrounding Trincomallee in the east coast. A few of us got out there last week and I was happy to see much of the town spared except a few low lying areas where people lived. However, much of coastal villages have been wiped out. There is an added problem in this area and the north with landmines that have been dislodged and floating around. In some places, rescue workers cannot get to the bodies to recover them as there are landmines in between. It is sad.
I also saw one of my favorite haunts in north of Trincomallee, the Nilaveli Beach hotel in rubble. There were beds, tables and other furniture strewn about well over 500 meters after in front of the hotel after the breaking the wall in front. I could only imagine the force of the water and how anybody could survive in this and the debris flying around is a miracle. Anyway, now the sea has settled. As I drove by it today, I could not imagine the calm, innocent and the docile looking ocean could wreak so much havoc. It only confirms how small we humans are in the scheme of things.
As a global response, we are really seeing so much love and compassion from all corners. The international community has truly got together and we have plane load after plane load coming in which is creating all kinds of logistical problems too. This requires good organization and it took the government a few days to get their act together.
I am also so happy when I hear stories where people risked their lives to help each other on the day and after. We need to document these and cherish them. Amidst these there were the sad stories of people looting and robbing. I heard someone say, "shoot the bastards". That is not the solution. We have to take collective responsibility for these actions too. How desperate must they be to rob someone in distress. We have to address these issues. So, we have a lot of learning from all this and hopefully our rebuilding of lives and infrastructure will take stock of all these lessons.
I am so touched by so many people, even long lost friends finding us just to ask whether we are ok. I am also overwhelmed by the offers for help from all over. I also really appreciate all the e mails and calls I got from all of you. It has given us all strength that we are not alone in this. In a way, we are used to disasters like the many bombs that used to blow around here, but this is nature's wrath and that is scary.
Peace and love to all - Lalith