The day the waves shook Lanka
Tsunami waves rising higher and higher rolled in battering parts of
Sri Lanka's coastline devouring everything under the sun leaving death
and destruction in their wake. Around 40,000 human beings lost their
lives - properties destroyed - children were left orphaned and families
scattered. Tsunami hit areas were scarred with debris - like a demonised
battle-field. One year ago this was the worst and the darkest day Sri
Lanka ever saw - the day Mother Lanka cried.
In the early hours of December 26th last year, I was among a group of
journalists on an assignment to Uda Walawe. The day dawned similar to
any other day. I marvelled at the bright streaks of dawn lighting up the
skies with pastel shades... the trees and paddy fields came into
focus... and nature was as beautiful as ever. It must have been sheer
luck that our party took the Ratnapura route to reach the destination
because tsunami had struck about an hour before we reached there. I may
not have been here today to write this story had we taken the Southern
While at Uda Walawe we heard the sad news broken over the
broadcasting waves and was shocked to hear that Tsunami was repeatedly
wreaking havoc and that Block 1 of the Yala National Park had also been
at the receiving end. We heard that the Patanangala Park Bungalow and
the Yala Safari Lodge had been destroyed with all occupants within,
among whom were foreigners.
Those who were at the Beach had been washed away and drowned in the
mighty waves. I remember this location very well since I had been there
many times. Much against expert advice we decided to immediately leave
for Yala to see for ourselves what had happened.
As we arrived at the Yala National Park, residents in the area
advised us against going further in but we persisted that we had to
continue our journey interior to the eastern end of the park to witness
There were several groups of people, despair written all over their
faces, speaking to each other in muffled tones. Several four-wheel drive
vehicles were plying up and down inside the park bringing in dead
bodies. Rising to the occasion several gallant men had ventured in, in
rescue work and among them were local wildlife officials and those from
the Department of Wildlife Conservation head office in Colombo led by
their boss and a couple of our journalists from the group, helping in.
We ventured further and saw vehicles and other heavy equipment
belonging to the Park Bungalow and the Safari Lodge washed away by the
tsunami tidal waves stuck in the mud. Among those items were suitcases,
clothes etc. which belonged to the occupants also stuck in high branches
of trees. We returned through Tissamaharama by night - it was a dead
city with groups of people at intervals on the road and the hospital
compound filled with anxious kith and kin of tsunami victims.
On another day along with my family members we ventured downsouth to
see the tsunami destruction. The sights were appalling. The tsunami
waves had come inland to a distance of about 200 metres rolling on to
the roads several trawler boats. Cars tossed about had landed nose
downwards resting along partially destroyed walls of houses. The
Peraliya railway line was a twisted and mangled wreck.
Dotting the waysides were camping sites of `tsunami tents' where
displaced people were housed. The coastal belt and boatyards were in
chaotic disorder and several boats totally destroyed. The once congested
Hambantota town was bare and desolate.
Following on the heels of the tsunami waves, aid in cash and kind
from different quarters from both local and international agencies came
Vehicles loaded with food, dry rations, tents, medicines and clothes
etc. rushed to tsunami affected areas for the benefit of those affected.
These were distributed among the displaced - some of whom were
temporarily accommodated in temple and church premises, schools and
The excitement and vigour of donors and helpers which rose
immediately out of the tsunami waves seems to have now waned. Still
there are camps and tents and refugees....living in unsanitary
conditions... hoping against hope that they would be able to once again
piece up together the broken strands of life and live a decent life.
Little children looking forward to normal school days again to be
equipped to face the future. What is the future of the youth in tsunami
affected areas poised to assume their place in society as the next
generation of leaders of the nation?
"Our coast invited the tsunami" - man betrayed nature and nature
punished those guilty of it. It was evident that those who most suffered
were those who destroyed nature and its natural defences.
Mangroves, sand dunes, beach vegetation, coral reefs are among
natural treasures man plundered to erect structures which would bring in
monetary gains. The angry sea turned tables and the gains were reduced
Heavy eco-system destruction were recorded from places where the
beach front features consisted of low stature sand dunes, cleared areas,
lagoons, outlets and bays. Modification of beach environment for the
construction of tourism facilities, boatyards, modified water canals and
settlements paid a heavy price.
Immediately after the tsunami, those in authority spoke about
erecting a green belt and a 100 or 200-metre buffer zone. Planting of
tropical trees suited to a marine ecosystem and the protection of the
coastline were under discussion.
Much research and rapid assessments were done on tsunami damage to
life and property and expenditures to be incurred estimated. It had been
reported that enough and more financial tsunami aid had flown into the
country from here and abroad. There were news reports and pictures of
outdated provisions being destroyed, medical drugs stored indefinitely
being unsuitable for human consumption, materials in kind stagnating in
store-houses and tsunami financial aid unscrupulously drained into other
avenues. Inequality in aid distributions had been highlighted.
Restoration and rehabilitation work had been undertaken at intervals
to a certain extent...yet at snail space. There are questions that the
general public poses to those in authority and to those who could make a
difference to the lives of those innocent affected.
Has those in authority exercised maximum efforts to restore the
country back to normalcy? What of the nation's future? What action has
been taken to prevent natural disasters as colossal as the tsunami
recurring? How far is man educated and equipped to act in instances of
such disasters? How was the tsunami financial aid utilised and those
affected benefitted? How much of this planned and proposed paper work
being transferred into practical action?
One year has elapsed after the tsunami tidal waves swept our shores
and rolled inland... it's worthwhile to ponder as to whether sufficient
has been done so far for those affected and the country, and where we
An expectant nation asks "when will all those tsunami tents disappear
and public life once again return to normalcy?".