GREAT TSUNAMI OF DECEMBER 2004 IN SRI LANKA: DAMAGE, EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS AND REBUILDING THE ECONOMY

GREAT TSUNAMI OF DECEMBER 2004 IN SRI LANKA

In Sri Lanka, the December 2004 tsunami killed 35,000 people and left 900,000 homeless. This is quite a lot in a nation that has only 19 million people, with the majority of them living near the coast. Nearly 40 percent of the dead were children. It was Sri Lanka’s worst natural disaster in recorded history. Only Indonesia suffered more casualties in the disaster.

Sri Lanka is located 1,600 kilometers west of the epicenter of the December 2004 earthquake. The tsunami struck Sri Lanka about one hour and 45 minutes after the Sumatran earthquake that created it. It hit the east coast first at around 8:45am local time. It took another 30 minutes for it to whiplash around the island to the south coast, which was struck around 9:15am local time. The shock waves from the earthquake were enough to lift the earth four inches in Sri Lanka. The waves traveled up to 800kph in deep water and were 300 kilometers wide. The largest waves were six meters. They surged inland up to a kilometer.

Unlike Thailand, where the waves crashed ashore like large Hawaiian waves, the tsunami in Sri Lanka was a like surging high tide that wouldn’t stop. This was because the waters off Sri Lanka are very deep while those off Thailand are very shallow. The waves that hit Sri Lanka were widely spaced and kept coming for more than an hour. In some cases they surged far inland and then withdrew far out to sea and then surged again. In many ways the most dangerous aspect of these waves was the incoming and outgoing current that swept people away and in many cases far out to sea.

Areas Devastated by the Great Tsunami of 2004 in Sri Lanka

The December 2004 tsunami struck the east coast of Sri Lanka the hardest and the southern coast pretty hard too. The west coast, including Columbo, was either spared or received damage that was minimal compared to the eastern and southern coasts. Death tolls in the south were high because population densities are high there. Fortunately the east coast is not that heavily populated or even more people would have died.

The area around Kalmunai, on the east coast of Sri Lanka about 50 kilometers south of Batticaloa, was the worst hit area in Sri Lanka. Around 10,000 people were killed along a single 6.4 kilometer section of beach, with entire villages disappearing with hardly a trace left behind. One local official interviewed by the New York Times said he lost 27 relatives, counted 374 dead around his home, and oversaw the burial of 2,250 people. Most of the victims were Tamils and Muslims crushed and washed away by a huge wave that sounded like a bomb exploding when it struck.

Around 3,000 people were killed around Mullaittavu in northeast Sri Lanka and the fishing villages around it. Entire extended families were wiped out. People were pushed hundreds of meters inland and then pulled out to sea. The beach road and many of the houses that were on it vanished.

More than 4,000 died in the southern historical, resort town of Galle. Many died where water was funneled trough a busy bus and train station. A train packed with commuters overturned. In some marshy areas people literally walked on corpses Not far away in Hambantota 4,500 people died. More than 2,500 bodies were fished from the lagoon near the town.

Train Destroyed by the Great Tsunami of 2004 in Sri Lanka

An estimated 1,200 people died that were traveling the Queen of the Sea coastal train between Colombo and Galle. The train was chugging slowly near the coast, filled with Columbo families out for an outing, nearing Galle when it was struck by tsunami waves. Another 1,00 people died in villages near where the train was struck. Even people regarded as champion swimmers in their youth were swept away to their deaths.

The train had just stopped in the village of Telwatta when it was hammered by the tsunami. The force of the waves tore wheels off some of the carriages, lifted the train off the tracks and lifted the tracks off the ground, scattering the carriages here and there as if they were toys. The tracks were twisted and gnarled. The 80-ton engine was twisted like a pretzel. Palm trees were knocked down. Clothes and baggage was strewn around.

Pictures of Engine 59 and the Queen of the Sea were widely shown in the international press and became a symbol of the tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka. A total of 824 bodies were recovered as of later February 2005. Some were passengers on the train. Others were villagers who climbed on the train in an effort to get above the rising water.

Victims of the Great Tsunami of 2004 in Sri Lanka

Many of the victims were Tamils. Several thousand Tamils died in territory controlled by the Tamil Tigers separatist group. Sri Lanka was in the middle of the tourist season. Hotels were filled with foreigners. Still foreigner made up only 0.5 percent of dead (160, the figure was much higher in Thailand) because the worst hit areas where along the east coast, which does not receive many tourists.

Along the beaches many dead children were tangled in wire mesh used to protect seaside homes from erosion. Corpses were wrapped in sarongs and placed near the sides of the roads. In some cases their burials were carried out with forks and spoons. Most of the victims had been found and buried by mid-January. Few bodies were discovered after that.

Many places were struck more than two hours after the earthquake that generated the tsunami. If an adequate warning system had been in place nearly all the 32,000 people that were killed would have survived. The national meteorology department in Columbo makes decisions about warnings. Officials there usually make weather warning and don’t even have seismographs. Officials were looking at the US Geological Survey website and debating whether or not to issue a warning when the first waves of the tsunami hit eastern Sri Lanka.

Survivor Stories from the December 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka

Survivors who lost children felt it was bad karma or punishment for something they had done in a previous life. Some survivors felt it was their good karma that saved them. Some Buddhists who lived while their Muslim neighbors died said it was their faith in Buddhism that kept them alive.

An owner of a guest house in Arugam Bay told the Washington Post he heard screams and commotion but not think much of it until “my feet got wet.” He then ran into the street and was quickly overtaken by the surging water. He was carried away a couple hundred meters, slammed into a wall and stripped of his clothes before grabbing hold of a coconut palm. His wife and daughter were carried away and deposited in the local library. They managed to escape by slipping out a window before the water reached the ceiling in the building. An 11-year-old girl who was staying at their house was carried away into the sea and never seen again.

A government worker at a village near Arugama Bay told the Washington Post he was doing paper work when the first wave hit. He tried to escape on his motorcycle but the engine conked out when it was flooded by the rising waters. He managed to save himself by climbing a palm tree. When the water receded he returned to his home to find his mother, sister and grandmother dead and tangled up in debris. He said he had no time to grieve and began organizing people to flee to higher ground before more waves arrived.

One woman from the town of Dehiwala told the New York Times. “We were just relaxing here after finishing our morning work. All of a sudden the water from the sea rose close to our houses. Then it went out again. We all stood and watched.” The water withdrew almost a kilometer. A fisherman from the same village said, “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.”

One survivor said she heard what she thought was an explosion, thinking fighting had erupted again between the government and the Tamil Tigers. Her daughter told her, “water is coming.” She then grabbed one daughter and pushed the other out the door and yelled, “Run run!” They didn’t get far before water engulfed them. One daughter got caught in some barbed wire. The women held on and tried to pull her up. She held on until she blacked. Her husband found her vomiting salt water. The two girls were found dead buried under debris.

Foreign Tsunami Survivors in Sri Lanka

Among the well people vacationing in Sri Lanka at the time of the tsunami was former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He and his entourage were unhurt. They were airlifted from their hotel in a Sri Lankan air force helicopter. The Harrow School cricket team survived by climbing on top of a pavilion to avoid the water rushing past them.

Willaim Recktenwald wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “At 9 a.m. I settled for breakfast at the Hotel Club Lanka on the beach at Ahangam [east of Galle]...A big wave splashed, and people on the beach jumped back and yelled. In the next minute four or five large waves rolled across the manicured lawn and pushed dirty water into the pool....I was on high ground....Then a wave swept in, a large one. I was in water up to my knees. It rushed out, almost pulling me from my perch. I grabbed a concrete pillar. The next wave was up to my neck. I barely could hold on.”

“Then one came over my head, and the force pulled me into the water. I could see cars in the parking lot being tossed like toys, walls were falling, 6-foot concrete walls crumbled...I was washed back and forth. People in the hotel balcony screamed at me to swim to them, but I could make no headway. As the water receded, I grabbed a piece of netting attached to a concrete pillar and got upright again....In minutes the water receded the distance of several football fields. the ocean reef was exposed. The hotel was devastated. [Ibid]

“An English girl, a cute 3-year-old...was missing...The search was on. Hotel staff, a dozen members of her family, searched meticulously. But there was no luck...A guest, an older Sri Lankan who had been dragged from his room by the wave, was found. The staff and guests began CPR, but it was too late...A member of the hotel staff was pulled from the kitchen. He too was dead....There was panic that another wave was coning...Some large waves swept onto the grounds of the hotel but nothing like the first.” [Ibid]

More Survivors Stories from the December 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka

Gemunu Amarasinghe, a reporter with AP, was driving on the coastal road as the tsunami hit. He said at first the waves didn’t look big. “The waves brought fish to the shore, and some young boys rushed to catch them. Then a second series of much large waves arrived. “Water started climbing,” he said. He scrambled on the roof of his jeep but it wasn’t high enough. “The water kept coming. In a few minutes my jeep was underwater.”

Amazingly Amarasinghe managed to wade and swim to dry land. “I joined masses of people escaping to high land. Some carried their dead and injured loved ones. Some of the dead were eventually placed at the roadside, and covered with sarongs. Other walked past dazed, asking if anyone had seen their family members.” After 15 minutes the water receded. Amarasinghe saw “the twisted limbs of the frail-bodied girl in a blue dress were caught in a garden fence near the sea. She may have died, but no one stopped---there was already too much tragedy around her to check.”

A Japanese tourist who was just sitting down for breakfast about 50 meters from the shore at a national park in southern Sri Lanka told the Daily Yomiuri that his group were repeatedly struck by two-meter-high waves and were swept away. He tried to grab onto a drifting tree and other objects but they sank when he grabbed them. Waves washed over him and he thought he was going to die. Finally he was able to grab onto an uprooted tree that supported him. He hung on for about 20 minutes and was washed up on a shore with his leg tangled in the tree. After a while he was able to free himself and then help another Japanese tourist with a neck injury. The two of them fled to higher ground.

Animals and Damage from the December 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka

Amazingly there were hardly any dead wild animals, even at Yala national park, where waves crept inland more than three kilometers. An official at the park told Reuters, “The strange thing is we haven’t recorded any dead animals. No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit. I think animals can sense disaster. They have a sixth sense. They know when things are happening.” A naturalist at the Yala Safari Game Lodge told Travel & Leisure magazine that birds acted strangely and sang strange songs, then the sea retreated, followed by a huge, surging five-meter wave that inundated the resort and carried away at least 42 guests and 13 employees.

Losses were great in terms of destroyed or damaged roads, boats, ports, hotels, clinics, houses and other buildings. More than 130,000 homes were destroyed. The damage was often hit and miss. Some places that were devastated were right next to places that seemed untouched.

Describing the scene in Dewata, a small town near Galle, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “An few concrete buildings are still standing along he road, but their contents have been disgorged...Most of the area is a tangle of smashed beams, twisted coconut tree limbs and bricks. some covered with bits of blue and white plaster, the remnants of walls...In trees that withstood the force of the waves, nests of torn fishing nets, broken planks and colored plastic bags are caught in the branches...Further inland are houses that were shattered as the water surged, twisting and tearing everything in it path.”

“Scattered here and there are remnants of lives that so recently filled these ruined buildings: a single gold sandal, a toothbrush, a torn purple sari that retain a ceratin grace in its resting place in the dirt. Cats, their owners displaced or dead, slink over the uneven terrain, looking confused and skittish.”

A total of 438 of the 450 fishing vessels in the town of Arugam Bay were put out of operation by the tsunami. By April only 15 percent of the fleet had been restored. Unlike Aceh in Indonesia. most of the roads remained useable, which made it possible to deliver relief supplies.

Children and Displaced People After the December 2004 Tsunami

After the disaster many of those who were displaced headed to local temples and mosques. There, early camps were set up for the homeless and water and food supplies were organized for survivors. Three weeks after the disaster about 425,000 people lived in camps. Many displaced people were put up in scrubland refugee camps, where they lived in tents and “transition shelters” comprised of a single room with cement flooring, wood walls and corrugated iron roofs. Weeks after the tsunami there were heavy rains and flooding and tsunami refugees had live with water in their tents and makeshift homes.

Many relief camps were set up by Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim groups. Getting around was difficult because so many cars, trucks, motorbikes and other vehicles had been washed away.

An infant dubbed “Baby 81" was claimed by nine sets of parents. The staff at the hospital were so worried that the baby would be abducted they guarded him at night. The baby was dubbed baby 81 because he was the 81st admission to a hospital on December 26th. He had been found wailing among the wreckage and was brought to the hospital by strangers. The true parents were determined using DNA testing. At one point the parents were arrested after they stormed the hospital where the baby was held before the DNA tests were completed. The mother had earlier threatened to commit suicide if the baby was not delivered to them. Baby 81 became so famous he and his parents were flown to the United States and appeared on ABC-TV’s Good Morning American. ABC paid to fly the family from Sri Lanka to the United States.

One 63-year-old man was arrested for trying to sell two of his grandchildren--- two girls, 7 and 9, who lost their mother and their house in the tsunami.. The arrest took place at a relief camp in the southern village of Batapola. The children were being offered for $500 apiece. Worries about human trafficking were taken serious enough by the government that restrictions were placed on children leaving the country.

One 18-year-old girl told AP she was raped by the man who rescued here. She said the man offered her his hand as she was swept down a river. When they reached a river bank he threw her in the bushes and raped her. “I screamed and told him not to hurt me. He put his hands around my neck and told me that even if he kills me right there, no one will know.”

Immediate Relief in Sri Lanka After the

Great Tsunami of 2004

The initial emergency relief effort in Sri Lanka was slowed by the fact that so many government facilities that helped in distributing aid were destroyed. Many civil servants were either killed or busy looking after their families they didn’t concentrate on their duties. Aid offered by the government was spotty and relief from businessmen and charities is what kept people from starving.

There were many stories about wealthy people renting vehicles and loading them with food and personally delivering them to tsunami-sticken areas. Some did so because they worried if they gave money to the government it would be wasted or skimmed off. The effort however lacked coordination. Places off the beaten track often got nothing while places near main roads got more supplies than they could handle.

Local government officials often found that they were on their own helping their communities. Many were given no directions by their superiors and had to improvise. One government worker in the town of Sarvidayapuram who was interviewed by the Washington Post worked out of a relative’s home and got around on a bicycle. Ignoring deaths of his own relatives, he worked around the clock combating looting, organizing the slaughter of cows to feed people, overseeing the burial of the dead, and dogging government agencies to provide the 430 families in his area with things they needed.

Local officials who were given government assistance were given $50,000 and told to run the refugee camps in their area, identify orphans, clear rubble, find ways to rejuvenate the economy, place more soil on the mass graves and prevent people from building along the coast. Often the first chore, which took many days, was collecting all the dead bodies. That task involved picking up exposed corpses in the first few days and then looking for additional ones under the rubble. After corpses were burned disinfectant was sprayed around.

Longer Term Relief in Sri Lanka After the December 2004 Tsunami

Around $2 billion from donations made its way to the Sri Lankan government Relief efforts included setting up water purification centers, temporary housing and trauma-counseling centers. Families in stricken areas received a payment of $127 per family and around $4 a week in cash every week for food. The government paid cremation expenses. Money was allocated to build homes but was held up over problems allocating land to build new homes on.

Most of the displaced were put up in temples, schools and mosques. Volunteers participated in the search and burial of the dead. There were no major outbreaks of disease, thanks to the efforts of aid organizations and the government, and no shortages of food and clothing, thanks to local groups and ordinary Sri Lankans.

Most of the aid for the United States government was aimed at reconstruction. Assistance from the American military was minimal, in part because the Indian military seemed to have the matter in hand. The Indians deployed 14 ships, nearly 1,000 military personnel and several dozen helicopters and planes. Medical teams arrived within hours after the disaster. The first ships were in Sri Lanka the day after the disaster, with soldiers digging latrines in relief camps and ships helping to clear sunken ships and debris from the harbors. Indians got some satisfaction in having an opportunity to be a provider rather than a taker of relief assistance.

Longer term concerns included building proper homes for all the people who had been displaced, providing reliable and steady supplies of food, clean water and medicine, and figuring out ways to rebuild the people’s lives, jump start the economy and open schools. One of the biggest problems was panic of other tsunamis that sent people heading for the hills, where they lived in squalid conditions, afraid to return to better equipped camps near the coast. In the hills people were more vulnerable to outbreaks of disease.

Tons of unusable aid came in, including mountains of used clothing and bottled waters. Among the “Aid for Tsunami Victims” stored in a warehouse in Galle were winter tents, stiletto shoes, expired cans of salmon, thong panties, wool blankets, boots, Mickey Mouse pajamas, and even Viagra. There was so much of the stuff that relief workers had difficulty finding a place to store it all. [Source: AP]

Sri Lankan religious leader were alarmed by the presence of American evangelicals among the aid groups. There were reports of Christians from the Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas entering refugee camps and seeking out traumatized children and giving them gifts and trying to sell them on Jesus. Two members of the group were arrested. A couple of years earlier members of the church were held by the Taliban for proselytizing. Among the most angry were local Sri Lankan Christians who feared a backlash from local Buddhists. As a rule Christian aid groups don’t mix religion with their humanitarian work.

Rebuilding and Getting Back to Normal in Sri Lanka After the December 2004 Tsunami

By the end of January, one month after the disaster, water was no longer a problem. Water sources were restored and purification systems were set up by aid agencies. By April the number officially listed as homeless had been reduced from around 900,000 after the disaster to 95,000. Most had moved in with relatives rather than moved into new housing built for them.

The building of permanent homes was held up by new laws that discouraged people from building near the sea. The laws banned the building of homes within 100 meters of the shore in southern Sri Lanka and 200 meters from the coast on hard hit southeastern shore. Only buildings that survived the tsunami were allowed to stay.

Much of the building was done with help of relatives and friends not with money from foreign donors. Money from foreign donors was held up by the government, partly because of the rules on how it was to be spent, particularly rules that restricted rebuilding near the sea. Many people felt handcuffed by the restrictions on building close to the shore. They were also frustrated by delays in money promised by the government to fix boats and perform other tasks.

Places that got back on their feet quickly often did so by setting modest goals. Arugam Bay was back in business within a couple of months. By April the beach was largely cleared of debris and restaurants reopened in makeshift huts. Guest houses reopened using tents for rooms.. Many donations came from loyal backpackers and surfers. The coastal train between Colombo and Galle made a symbolic run in late February 2005 to show that life was returning to normal.

In the tsunami-stricken-areas, getting children back in school was regarded as the best way to help them cope with the catastrophe and return to a semblance of normal life. For many children it was a shock to be reminded of all the friends they lost by attending classes with many missing students. Some schools lost more than half their students. Many schools were used as relief centers or as temporary housing for people who had been displaced. Some schools had been destroyed or carried away by the waves. Some kids waiting for their schools to be rebuilt were given “schools in a box”---cartons with books and other supplies.

Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim groups provided some grief counseling. Many people who lost family members found it most comforting to talk to other people who had lost loved ones. Many had difficulty getting over snap decisions that resulted in the deaths of family members. One woman told the New York Times she had left her house to run a quick five-minute errand shortly before the tsunami arrived. When she returned she could only look on in horror as her six-month-old son and six-year-old son that she left in her house were washed away. Another placed her 4-year-old daughter in a roof and her 3-year-old son on her shoulders. Her son was washed away from her grasp but her daughter survived.

Problems with the Rebuilding Effort in Sri Lanka After the December 2004 Tsunami

Catherine Philp wrote in the Times of London: “When emergency aid began pouring into Sri Lanka in the days and weeks after the tsunami, it came in a flood through open doors flung wide by a grateful nation. But as the weeks and months have gone by the reconstruction effort has slowed to a crawl, hampered by bureaucracy, incompetence and corruption, much of it on the part of the Sri Lankan Government. Six months after the tsunami struck, thousands of survivors still live in sweltering tents, while others inhabit temporary shelters that will have to be rebuilt in the coming weeks as monsoon rains grow heavier. “It’s a mess,” one United Nations official said. “We should have all these people properly sheltered by now. But this country is awash with aid money that people can’t spend because they are so busy jumping through the hoops that the Government is putting up for them.” [Source: Catherine Philp, Times of London, June 18, 2005]

“Hambantota, almost totally devastated in the disaster, was meant to stand as a model for reconstruction across the island with plans to rebuild a town from scratch three miles away from the rubble-strewn bay. But its story so far is emblematic of the chaos and confusion surrounding the rebuilding effort. Soon after the tsunami, the Government declared that no reconstruction could take place within 100 metres of the shoreline, to create a buffer zone to protect against future disasters. In the case of Hambantota, this accounted for the entire old town, which is sandwiched between a crescent bay and a salt-water lagoon. Amid great fanfare, ground was broken on a site newly cleared from the jungle, where 2,000 homes were due to be built. Six months later, however, just 47 of those homes have been completed, built by a Buddhist relief organisation and handed to the Government for allocation. Last week only two of the homes were occupied by families---and they were still coming and going from their tented homes in a relief camp, because the Government had failed to match the building effort with services of its own. “There’s no electricity or water so how can we stay here?” Fatima, 44, said, looking around the empty living room. “Tonight we’ll go back to our tent in the mosque.” [Ibid]

“While frustration grows in the aid community, anger is building among the survivors. The angriest are the so-called “100-metre refugees” who lost their homes close to the sea and are now forced to live in limbo, barred from rebuilding their homes where they stood and dependent on the Government to build them a home elsewhere. In Peraliya, in the shadow of a wrecked train, where the tsunami claimed more than 1,000 lives, the 100-metre refugees sit in tents or poorly constructed wooden huts, gazing at their neighbours just metres away, busily reconstructing their homes. Each of their neighbours has received a chunk of compensation, but for those whose homes were inside the buffer zone there is nothing. [Ibid]

“Most unfortunate of all are those who lived in the buffer zone but did not own their own land and so under the Sri Lankan Government’s policy are not entitled to be rehoused at all. Nobody knows how many there are, because on paper, they do not exist. “These are the poorest of the poor and there’s nothing we can do for them,” Ms Schaefer said. “They lost their homes, they’ve lost their families, they have lost everything. They haven’t even started to get over the trauma. To give them a house is the beginning of recovery.” [Ibid]

December 2004 Tsunami and the Economy in Sri Lanka

Growth forecasts for Sri Lanka dropped from 4.8 percent to 2.8 percent after the tsunami. Growth was expected to be reduced by 2 percent because the economy is so dependent on tourism and tourism was hit hard by the tsunami. The currency and the stock market were not affected too much

Fishing was also hard hit the tsunami. It was not unusual for a fishing town to lose more than 1,000 fishing boats. Many fishermen had no insurance. They had to start over again from scratch.

Tsunami aid helped the economy. So much money came in from foreign donors that the central bank was able to lower interest rates. The large amounts of dollars pouring into the country improved Sri Lanka’s balance of payments and curbed the rate of inflation and raised the value of the Sri Lankan rupee. Within a few months the growth rate was projected to be around five percent, the same as it was before the tsunami. There were some worries that the influx of aid money might push prices up.

The Sri Lankan government has said it needed $12. billion to rebuild. Some countries allowed Sri Lanka to delay its loan payments. There was a surge in construction and production of raw materials like cement and steel. More people sought jobs in the Middle East.

December 2004 Tsunami and the Economy and Tourism in Sri Lanka

Hundreds of hotels were damaged or destroyed. The largest and most expensive remained largely intact. Many of the large resort hotels had insurance. Many of the smaller, bungalow-style ones did not. After the disaster hotel occupancy was running at less than 50 percent. No one knew how lasting the drop off would be. Many thought tourists would return by the summer. The government expected 550,000 visitors in 2005, down from an anticipated 600,000.

Describing the impact of the disaster on tourism, Lisa Kalis and James Brooke wrote in the New York Times, "For Sri Lanka, the disaster came at a particularly crucial time. In 2002, the country emerged from a 20-year civil war and seemed to be at a turning point for tourism. Through October, the number of foreign visitors, mostly from western Europe, had risen 12 percent over the same period in 2003, according to tourism officials. "We were looking forward to a bumper season," said Geoffrey Dobbs, a British expatriate who owns four tourism properties. [Source: Lisa Kalis and James Brooke, New York Times, Jan. 16, 2005]

“It is a coastal disaster," said John Vasatka, general manager for Amanresorts hotels in Sri Lanka. "You go 1 or 2 kilometers inland and you don't see the effects." Based on what he had seen, Vasatka thought the damage seemed more limited than Florida's Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which he also witnessed. "It's a much more localized area," he said. "We hope it will be much easier to rebuild." [Ibid]

“As of early January, 56 of Sri Lanka's 243 hotels were closed. The tourist board estimated that nearly all major beach hotels would be open by the end of February. But the luxury Triton Hotel, one of nine properties on Sri Lanka owned by Aitken Spence Hotels, is closed indefinitely. Waves damaged the 16 beach villas at the luxury Blue Water hotel, owned by Jetwing Hotels, but they are open once again. Another Jetwing property, the Yala Safari Game Lodge on the southeastern coast, was washed away, and many staff members and guests died. The lodge should be rebuilt within a year, said its marketing director, Lalin de Mel. Not all of Sri Lanka's attractions are damaged, or on the coast. The 37 hotels in Colombo are open, and the Cultural Triangle, archaeological sites restored with help from UNESCO, lies safely inland. The east coast of the island suffered the most deaths but had relatively few hotels, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association. [Ibid]

Problems with Distributing Aid in Sri Lanka After the December 2004 Tsunami

Catherine Philp wrote in the Times of London: “Down amid the rubble of the bay where the town once stood, Zaruk and his family are also still living in a tent. Even if the new town had power and water, they would not want to move there. “I am a fisherman, how can I go and live in the jungle?” he said. “I want to rebuild my house right here so I can fish again but because we are in the 100-metre zone the Government will not let us.” Even getting back to sea to earn a living is fraught with difficulty. Three days ago, Zaruk finally received a new boat paid for by an aid organisation and distributed by the Government. But without nets it is useless. Further down the coast there are fishermen who have received nets but no boats. Elsewhere they have boats but no outboard motors. [Source: Catherine Philp, Times of London, June 18, 2005]

“Aid workers are under few illusions about where the fault lies. “Once the emergency phase of relief was over, everything we did had to go through the Government,” the head of one international relief agency said. “And that’s when everything started to slow down.” Chaos and confusion typify the relationship between the international efforts and the Sri Lankan Government. A UN worker who tried to call the fisheries department to sort out the problems with supply of equipment to fishermen found that no one was there to take her call. An aid organisation that signed an agreement for a piece of land on which to build, discovered that two other agencies had agreements for the same land. [Ibid]

“The distribution of fishing boats in Galle almost broke down in a riot after the first five boats were given to fishermen who already had their own. The remainder were withdrawn in a hurry and still languish in warehouses. Government officials agreed a deal for an aid organisation to build permanent houses, but later the agreement was scrapped because the plans for the homes did not include any bathrooms or lavatories. [Ibid]

“A government ministry asked Unicef for two ambulances to help with medical work in refugee camps, but when they finally cleared customs, two months after their arrival, they were hit with a $40,000 (£22,000) tax bill for each one---more than twice the cost of the vehicles. The ministry refused to pay and the agency has been left pondering whether it will have to send them back.” [Ibid]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2012

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