Devastation in Sri LankaWednesday 5th January:
Waves the size of a three-storey
building hit a village called Maruthamunai in the Ampara District
of Sri Lanka. It was a community of predominantly Muslim Sinhalese
fishermen and textile weavers. Before the disaster, it had
a population of 21,000; in one day, 2500 people were killed
Survivors described how they desperately
held on to their children when the big waves hit, but were
unable to keep their grip in the force of the water. They
were separated and their children washed away to their deaths.
They have an immense sense of guilt, their last memory of
their children is being unable to hold to them. Many ask,
"why did they die while we are still alive?"
There are have been many tragedies. A
school teacher saw the waves coming and managed to get the
whole class onto the roof of the school. They survived the
first of the waves only to be swept away by the second. The
teacher and all 40 children died.
The teacher's body was found holding on to two children he
had tried to save, one under each arm. Many of the dead were
discovered like this, one father was found with all six of
his children holding on to him even in death.
The most vulnerable when the waves hit
were the elderly and young children who couldn't run away
in time or hold on against the force of the water. The young
and the strong had a better chance of survival.
There seemed to be very few children left amongst the village’s
survivors. In refugee camps I have visited in the past, hordes
of playful children would surround any visitors, but the few
children I met here were quiet and withdrawn.
Over a week after the disaster, local
volunteers are still trying to reclaim bodies from the wreckage.
Some have travelled in all the way from the capital, Colombo.
Local organisations have organised themselves into teams,
and I went out with one of them; we recovered three bodies
- one of a nine-month-old baby.
From this single village, over 3,500 families
have been displaced and are in urgent need of emergency assistance.
Survivors queue up calmly for the aid; people take what is
given and walk away quietly. There isn't the clamour and chaos
that often breaks out when people are forced to compete over
aid. Here, the survivors of the disaster have a stunned quiescence
There are hundreds of widows who, under Islamic tradition
seclude themselves from the outside world during their period
of mourning. Unlike the other homeless inhabitants of the
area, they are unwilling to travel out of their seclusion
to find food for themselves. Islamic Relief is, instead, delivering
it to them.
IR has began distributions in Sri Lanka's
Ampara district where 38,624 families have been affected by
the disaster. Around 1000 families will receive non-food items
in the next few days, including clothes, cooking utensils,
mosquito nets and hygiene kits.
Around 200,000 people are living in makeshift camps, where
they are vulnerable to malaria and other diseases. Children
and the elderly are the most vulnerable.