WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

‘The water came and I started screaming’
By Seth Mydans The New York Times Tuesday, December 28, 2004
 

DEHIWALA, Sri Lanka Disaster crept up on them deceptively, the villagers said, and then pounced.
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"We were just relaxing here after finishing our morning work," said J.W. Kanti, whose work consists of cooking, washing and caring for her children. "All of a sudden the water from the sea rose up close to our houses. Then it went out again. We all stood and watched."
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It withdrew for 900 meters, or about 3,000 feet, said Christopher Fernando, 30, an electrician, scraping the seabed dry behind it.
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"The stones looked like elephants!" said his neighbor, Emil Chandradase.
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The people who lost everything in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the earthquake Sunday morning were among the country's poorest, mostly subsistence fishermen who lived between the rocky shoreline and the railroad tracks.
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Officials and Tamil separatist leaders say that more than 12,000 people are known to have died in Sri Lanka, one of the worst-hit nations, and that perhaps a million are homeless. The death toll is certain to rise as more people are found to be missing from seaside villages like this one.
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No one died in Dehiwala, a village just south of the capital, Colombo, but hundreds have been left homeless, including 600 people who are taking refuge on the brightly lit grounds of a Buddhist temple.
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Fernando said the fishermen rushed, in vain, to secure their boats.
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"Then all of a sudden, after a few minutes, the water came back again in a huge wall and we ran, and all our houses were turned into junk," he said.
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A huge wind rose for a moment, whipping the four palm trees that stand near his house.
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"We just grabbed our kids and ran," he said. "That's all we managed to save."
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One of those taking refuge at the temple was Aslin Gomus, 58, whose voice was hoarse from shouting.
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"The water came and I started screaming," she said. "I screamed and screamed. I saved a lot of children."
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But when she was asked, many hours later, she said she had no idea what it was she had been shouting.
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Her niece, Kumari Mendis, 29, said she took up the cry, "The water is coming!"
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"We were so scared," she added. "I thought maybe we will die now. We were just running. Thank God nobody is dead. But everything is gone. Everything is nothing."
Before they told their tales, they had seemed to be bundles of rags lying along the rocky shore by the railroad tracks.
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Suddenly they were up and running for their lives again in panic.
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"The water is coming again!" came the shout. "Get up! Run!"
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Under the moonlight early Monday, the ocean shrugged and rolled uncomfortably, spitting bits of white froth like a sick man, but it held its peace.
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The morning before, it had sucked their boats and belongings out to sea and left them ragged, homeless and terrified.
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The devastated shoreline is a portrait of the poverty of the village, littered with the trash that had furnished these people's lives - a cup, a tin plate, a car battery, broken chairs, a light fixture, piles of tattered clothing. Here and there a small fishing boat lies on its side.
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Armed policemen and soldiers patrol the ruins, followed by stray cats. The people here say looters appeared in their homes almost simultaneously with the waves.
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A police officer, Namal Ekanayake, sat on a salvaged plastic chair near the battered Dehiwala railroad stop. He said he was ready to flee at a moment's notice, with his men.
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"We can't predict anything regarding the scene," he said. A full moon glittered off the waves behind him, and the surf was drowsy and soothing.
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The people say they are counting on aid from the government and abroad to start their lives again. So far, what they have received is plastic jugs of drinking water - five bottles for 50 people in one small settlement.
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Electricity is gone, and here and there along the railroad tracks, people have set fire to tires, which give off black smoke but also orange flames, providing light.
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"Our boats are gone; our nets are gone," said Nimal Bandare, 38, a fisherman, with a small laugh of despair. "Now we have nothing but the clothes we are wearing. All we had was fishing. There is nothing else for us to do but stand here and watch."
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Referring to predictions of aftershocks from the major undersea earthquake that sent tidal waves up the shores across the Indian Ocean region, Giri Anadaradah, 33, a shopkeeper, said, "We hear on the radio that it will come again and next time it may be worse."
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If it comes again, however, the people here will be ready.
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"We will run, run, all run," said Pishante Kamala, standing beside the collapsed remains of her small wooden shanty. "Look! Look at the waves."
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The people who lost everything in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the earthquake Sunday morning were among the country's poorest, mostly subsistence fishermen who lived between the rocky shoreline and the railroad tracks.
.
Officials and Tamil separatist leaders say that more than 12,000 people are known to have died in Sri Lanka, one of the worst-hit nations, and that perhaps a million are homeless. The death toll is certain to rise as more people are found to be missing from seaside villages like this one.
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No one died in Dehiwala, a village just south of the capital, Colombo, but hundreds have been left homeless, including 600 people who are taking

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka