Memories of a devastating catastrophe

26 December 2017 01:03 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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It was December 26th, a historic day in 2004. I was watching television in the morning. Kamal, a confidante of mine, came to my home in the morning at about 8.30 a.m. He came to discuss how we should attend the funeral house of one of our relations in Meetiyagoda. The house is about 4 km from the Peraliya Town. Then we decided on a time to attend the funeral and began to watch the New Zealand -Sri Lanka cricket match.   


I heard the noise of the Matara bound express train, which had started journey from Colombo, arriving. Then I glanced at the wall clock at my house. It was 9.32 a.m. The train had just passed my home when I felt that the train had met with an accident.My friend and I ran immediately towards the rail track which was not more than 50 yards from home. There we saw that a compartment had been derailed. The light (amber) at the signal post was blinking. In the meantime a stream of water was arriving on the side of the railway track. Then my friend, who was very experienced about sea, told me that this situation was created due to a change of current. He said that the sea had entered the land. People were in fear and were running allover. By saying so, he was running into his house and I too returned to my home immediately. On the hearing of my footsteps, my wife screamed at me and told me to come to the room which was at the rear end of our home. Then I immediately went to the rear room and got onto the windowsill. I saw that my house was full of sea water. My fridge, almirahs, settee, television and beds were covered were submerged in water. I stood there helplessly on the windowsill. I had no idea what to do. All my family members were on a bed inside the room. The two almyrahs were blocking more water from entering the room.

 

I had no idea what to do. All my family members were on a bed inside the room. The two almyrahs were blocking more water from entering the room

 

 

Big sound   


There were eight members of my family in the rear room of the home. They all were shouting and sought assistance. In the meantime a person called Sunil, whose house was about 100 meters away from my home, saw that I was on the windowsill. He inquired, ‘uncle who is shouting’. He told me that he was coming and not to shout. Then immediately our well was filled with sea water, making a big sound. Sunil reached my home with great difficulty and opened the rear door. He took my two granddaughters on his two shoulders and asked us to follow him. Then we reached a hilly place, about 150 metres from my home, and he asked us to go to the Telwatta Rajamaha Viharaya to survive this tidal disaster. We tried to enter the temple, but were unable because fences obstructed our path. Then we heard people shouting and alerting everyone that the tide was coming towards the land. At that moment I realized that if the tide enters the land it would come over the roof of my home. I told my wife to think these were the final moments of our lives and that there was no other alternative except embrace the big tree nearby. We immediately went to that tree and embraced it. Then the waves entered the place where we were. The waves reached my neck. My wife and other family members who were with us invoked God’s blessing to survive. One of my relations who was embracing a Kitul tree (A tree from the palm family) along with her son and daughter was drowning in the water and disappeared. The woman who disappeared later surfaced and met her son and daughter. Then I inquired, “Aunty how did you survive?” to which she replied, by saying that she was able to grab the root of the coconut tree. In the process she had been forced to consume much sea water. Anyway she survived and 10 years after this incident she died on 14th December, 2014.   

 

Pathetic situation   


I told my wife that the waves which reached our home came over the roof. That made me realize that there would not be anything left of the home. After 4-5 minutes 

 

The Government had decided to give each family that had lost their houses, due to the tsunami, rupees of 250,000 as damages. It wasn’t enough to rebuild my home. Still some areas of my home needs renovation

 

there were no barriers and area was clear. Then we went to the temple.  I understood that my house was completely destroyed. With the help of the youth in the area people could go across the river to the other side for their survival. We too crossed the river and went to Aluthwala area which was over 5 km away from home. Many people had gathered at the Aluthwala Temple premises. They were from various villages in the area.  By this time in my life I was serving the Ministry of Finance as the Protocol Officer. Due to the disaster I couldn’t attend duty. I received a call from the ministry. The information I received was that the World Bank President James Woulffension was in Sri Lanka to access the tsunami disaster. The first task for me after the tsunami was to receive Woulffension at the Katunayake Airport. I even didn’t have proper attire to go to work. My mind was troubled by all these events. I reached Ambalangoda with great difficulty. I purchased all what I needed from this town to do to work.   


Compensation   


The Government had decided to give each family that had lost their houses, due to the tsunami, rupees of 250,000 as damages. It wasn’t enough to rebuild my home. Still some areas of my home needs renovation. But one day when I went (while on duty) to the VIP launch at the Katunayake Airport, I met Minister Kabir Hasim (Then he was an MP). I know him personally and he spoke about tsunami. He knew that I was also a tsunami victim. In his speech he spoke about the foreign aid that had arrived in Sri Lanka, during Tsunami period. According to him, each member of tsunami affected families was expected to receive one million as damages. According to him, I would have got Rs 5 million as damages. He warned that this kind of disaster would happen again and that foreign aid would not come like this. Everybody knows what happened to that money.  

 

By this time in my life I was serving the Ministry of Finance as the Protocol Officer. Due to the disaster I couldn’t attend duty 

 

After the tsunami disaster I met Tilak Ranaviraja who was one of my former bosses and the then Commissioner General of Essential Services. When I met him, He asked me to provide a Police Report and other relevant documents along with photos etc. So I provided everything he wanted and went to meet him again after 3-4 days. Then when I met him he told me that after considering my facts and following his recommendation the Cabinet had approved the ration to every public servant who was affected by the tsunami disaster. He further told me that other public servants are lucky to receive this ration worth of Rs. 5000/- each month up to three months, largely because of me. Then I thanked him for the action taken by him regarding the tsunami affected Government servants.   


Nevertheless everything is over now. My dearest friend Kamal is also no more. I take this opportunity to thank the youth who helped people in various ways in the Peraliya-Telwatta areas including those who made temporally arrangements to cross over to other side of the river to help stranded people. I also thank the people who came by train from places of the country to help out. 395 lives were lost in my village and nearly 2000 people, who traveled by this train, went missing near my house. I wish all this was only bad dream, and not something true which happened 14 years ago.   

 

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